summer class part 1

School update: I started my summer class after a whopping (sarcasm) five days off after my last spring final. Summer class was six hours a day in a classroom (yes, shorter than a workday but six hours of graduate-level coursework in one sitting is fairly exhausting) for the following three weeks. Several things made that time period more bearable. One was the fact that the class was interesting- cool guest speakers, cool topics. Several somewhat emotionally draining conversations about social determinants of health and how eliminating disparities in health between different racial/ethnic/economic groups (breast cancer survivorship in African American women being a particularly grim example) would basically mean having to reform the United States’ entire political and economic system. We learned a lotttt about community health assessments. Fact: your county has to do a community health assessment every 3-4 years. Look it up! Learn how people are doing! Just for kicks and giggles, I looked up my county where I lived growing up. Community assessment data, ideally, is used to help plan programs, services, changes in the built environment, etc. to make the people and environment where you live more healthy. Here’s an example of one of our assignments. We were told to create a simple, short message that could fit on a bumper sticker talking advocating for one area of public health. This was the inarguable winner. IMG_2489

We also did food assessments around neighboring communities. That meant looking at whether there were stores, how easy or hard was it to get to the stores, how affordable were the stores, what kinds of foods were offered at the stores, how family friendly were the stores, etc. etc. You can learn more about community nutrition assessment here. You can see a map of food deserts and racial makeup of neighborhoods here (the Community Commons maps are generally a really cool tool). Some pictures I took that stuck with me:

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6 pack of low-nutrient, high-sodium ramen noodles for 33 cents!

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Both breads were 100% whole wheat. The one on the left was WIC approved. It cost $2.99 and was 16 ounces. The one on the right was not WIC approved. It cost $1.99 and was 20 ounces. HUH?! This seemed like a ploy from the store to get more money from WIC (which reimburses for the cash value of the food item) and to get families’ bread to run out sooner in the month so they had to get back to the store. In our community food assessment, we also saw some depressing convenience stores in food deserts (one had a toilet in their parking area), and some drive through convenience stores (!!!) Inarguably, however, the most fun aspect of class was that we all agreed to sign up for one snack throughout the course of the class, which meant that every day I could look forward to a healthy (ish) morning and afternoon snack. Note that the snacks I took pictures of were the most exciting (read: unhealthy). Imagine a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, baked chips, hummus, and trail mix interspersed with these. CEREAL BAR! Colton brought in all the throwbacks. This bowl was a mix of French Toast Crunch and Reese’s Puffs, swoon. (At least they’re both whole grain?)

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Carolina went above and beyond and made homemade coconut milk rice pudding with fresh strawberries, swoon!

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Fruit, chocolate dip, homemade gluten-free banana bread.

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We had a total EPIDEMIC of birthdays in mid-May (I guess everyone’s parents were enjoying their summer vacations?!) and there were celebrations in and out of class. This (obviously) was once class had concluded for the day: tequila and empanadas! That’s what a new restaurant that just opened offers, exclusively. I had a jalapeno cilantro margarita (just okay, kinda weak) and a sauteed poblano pepper and cheese empanada. Other people ate and sang the praises of the key lime pie dessert empanada.

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We went the most all out for Sophia’s birthday in class. Sophia is basically the warm and loving Martha Stewart of our class. Fall break? She’s got homemade caramel apples. Valentine’s Day? Homemade fudge cups. Last day of class? A cinco de mayo fiesta. And for every single classmate’s birthday, she has brought a delicious edible gift. So, we returned the favor, and everyone got her one thing :D (Mine was fancy local creamed honey- something actually nonperishable! Hopefully a loving and practical gift)

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We lit candles on everything. Of course the birthday girl had to take a picture.

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Annnd action shot. We were definitely concerned we’d set off a smoke alarm at one point.

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Of course, Sophia then had to outdo herself like a week later and make us a last-day-of-summer-class cake. I mean really- Teddy Grahams floating in Lifesaver rafts.

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The names of everyone in our class (yes, mine is spelled slightly wrong… but the love is there!) and the teachers in extra large writing. Sophia is amazing- of course she had edible glitter, just lying around.

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I was the official Snack Person for this particular day, but let’s be real, my ants on a log (well really fire ants on a log since I used craisins) paled in comparison. (But, uh, they were still delicious because WHO REMEMBERS ANTS ON A LOG AM I RIGHT?!)

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We got out at 2pm on Friday, I amused my sister for a weekend, and then I was back to it at 8am the following Monday. Internship time! I’m in the tricky position of wanting to reflect on the time I’m spending at my internship while balancing that with appropriateness and privacy. We’re writing official blogs on our school site, and our professors discouraged us from including information in any private blogs (they don’t know about mine, nor do my classmates… this is strictly a passion project, and I’m nervous for people to see it and expect the professional-caliber work of other graduates of the UNC Nutrition program). ALL THAT BEING SAID, I’ve decided that it’s acceptable for me to share public information with y’all, and I have a fair amount of it. For example, I can tell you that I am interning at a public health department in North Carolina, and that NC health departments all operate independently from the state office, and that health departments in the southern United States tend to play a bigger role as provider of last resort since there are larger numbers of poor and uninsured people down South. And because Southern legislatures tend to be silly and reject free money for a Medicaid expansion. Because the Supreme Court let them. The health department where I work has a lot of services, including clinics, WIC (where I spend most of my time and where my preceptor- all RD students have to be supervised directly by an RD during their internships- is the director), programs to help families, environmental health, and some cool things with child care. Working with the child care health consultant, I got to see this AWESOME outdoor learning environment designed for preschoolers. This was not a traditional “playground” but based much more on free inquiry and exploration of natural spaces.

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This was a “sensory garden” for little ones to feel different textures (lots of different smells and sights, too).

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A “mud kitchen”. Because kids should be outside getting dirty, both for learning (kids learn through play and open ended play in nature is awesome!) and to get exposed to more normal, healthy microbes!

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Tunnel crawl.

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Water play! Up at the top there is a working pump.

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Blueberry maze!! The berries were still pale pinkish when we visited but in a few weeks they’re going to be abundant and delicious!

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This area was awesome and based on natural environments. Bird’s nest:

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Spider web!

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This outdoor learning environment is available for child care centers to bring kids on field trips. Teachers can get a chance to practice interacting with kids in a less structured space. It’s also an area of inspiration for child care centers and schools to hopefully incorporate areas like this into their own space. And finally, the area is open to the whole surrounding community to come play!

A few other highlights: it’s easier getting really sick (and I mean, obviously, it’s going to happen- I’m around small children all day) when your boss is a registered dietitian. I got the vitamin C hookup!

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Final highlight: WIC has an awesome breast feeding peer counselor program which you can read about here. I got to tag along with one of the BFPCs to the local hospital and I got to meet FRESH NEW HUMANS! It was amazing. Also, they put pink and blue bows on the door awwwww.

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early summer on the home front

Adventures in house sitting: I believe in synchronicity. Because when my roommate had four (!) out of town guests staying our (small!) apartment, I had a friend leaving town for a graduation who desperately needed someone to chicken sit! By which I mean she told me she was leaving town and I said I WILL CHICKEN SIT FOR YOUR CHICKS. Yes, that’s right, chicks! One of Steph’s chickens, Chip, is at the bottom of the pecking order. Yes, that is a thing. All the other chickens pick on her- she is literally hen-pecked and is missing a bunch of feathers from the back of her neck :( I assume as a symptom of her chicken depression, she got broody. Like, “I JUST WANT TO BE A MOTHER SO SOMEONE WILL LOVE ME!” She stayed in the coop and sat on her eggs all day… which didn’t get her anywhere, since, uh, no roosters around. Since Steph has a friend with a rooster, she managed to get some fertilized eggs, and put them under Chip to see what would happen. There was continued chicken bullying which resulted in some of the eggs breaking, sob, but ultimately three little chicks hatched! And Chip is SUPER MOM!

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I had so much fun taking care of them for a few days… which truthfully mostly meant getting on Chip’s nerves. But man it was magical listening to those little peeping chickies! I also took care of the grown up chickens. I was a little nervous about wrangling them back into their coop at the end of the day, but fortunately they have some mealworm snacks that are like chicken crack. When I waved the snack bag around, they were ready to follow me anywhere. My next house sitting adventure was for a less exotic pet: my cousin’s cat, Hobbes. Hobbes was not initially real enthusiastic about having me around and stayed in his little cat hutch a lot (this picture kills me!)

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But he eventually realized that I had hands that were perfectly capable of petting him, and he came around. We are now buds.

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Back at my own home, I decided to hold another clothing swap, for summer, since the winter one had been so popular.

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I always enjoy having a “randomess” section- it’s fun to see what shows up! (I gave the stuffed lobster to my friend’s kid)

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On the snack front, I took my brilliant Southern roommate’s suggestion and made a dip out of just pepper jelly and cream cheese. GAH it was so good! (Mom, thanks for the Valentine’s Day care package- the pepper jelly was delicious!)

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I was excited to have people around to show off my flower magic! You may remember from this post that I had a surprise regeneration of my orchid plant, after a prophetic dream. The flowers are now in bloom!

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And life is continuing on our porch: House Finch Babies, take 2. We’re having a hard time figuring out if this is the same couple as before. The mama seems to sit a little differently, with her tail sticking up (but that may just be the nest configuration is different because it contains all the detritus from the last round of babies). The father adorably perched above the planter to keep an eye on his baby mama.

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And soon we were treated to another round of frantic cheeping followed by adorable snacktime. These birdies are such good parents!

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Got to go out and peek at the nest again. Another round of four babies. Awkward little goofs.

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The heat wave has caused this round of birdies to relocate to a shadier potted plant on the porch next door. This means we can now put up our hummingbird feeder again, hurray!

Also on the nature front, I took a long evening walk (before the heat wave started) and saw four rabbits in one walk! Three are pictured below (the other one it was too dark. But I swear I saw it).

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This one was particularly adorable- shortly after snapping this shot, he started washing his face (see him holding up his paw?) I have never seen a bunny this relaxed around a human! Trusting little guy.

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Further on my walk I wandered into some weeknight live music on the Weaver Street Market lawn. I love all the outdoor living that happens in the South once warm weather arrives.

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Finally, since this used to be a food blog, a few examples of what I’ve been cooking lately.

This is a good example of the randomness I tend to eat on weeknights- it call comes down to me wanting to use stuff up. First I had some almond milk that needed using so I used it to make a batch of extra creamy polenta. Then that was boring so I turned it into giant griddled polenta cakes. This night I heated up part of one of those cakes and topped it with a reduced-fat string cheese and sauteed kale and mushrooms.

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This night I had received BOUNTY: my neighbor has an extremely affordable CSA through her office ($9 for a TON of produce!) and she’s getting more veggies than she can use, so she gave a bunch to me. I used them to make an extremely wholesome stir fry.

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Sauteed garlic, onion, celery, carrot, and yellow squash plus tempeh, olive oil, and a ton of fresh parsley. Hippie food!

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She also gave me some beets! Wanting to mix it up, I cut them super thin (this would have been a LOT easier with a mandoline) and then shmeared them with olive oil and then roasted them until crispy. Note: 375 was too hot an oven and some of them burned. Go for 350, and watch ’em!

This is them after slicing. Weren’t they beeyooootiful?!

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early summer rest and relaxation

Kvetch though I do about my academic commitments (and expect more in future posts about summer class and internship!) I also have been on the receiving end of lots of fun this summer. There have been lots of quality hosting, entertainment, and food from my amigos.

I went to Andrea’s for lunch one day (I’m a student and have random breaks in my day. She’s an opera singer and has a somewhat eclectic schedule consisting of nannying, teaching music lessons, and performing; thus, she is sometimes able to meet up with me for lunch on random Thursday afternoons).

She fed me this SPECTACULAR fancy toast inspired by a place in Durham.

– toasted bread
– mashed avocado
– radishes marinated in buttermilk

yesssss.

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Then, when my spring finals had concluded but my summer class had not yet begun, I had a visit from my beloved aunt Jeanie and uncle Tim! (With a cameo from various cousins). I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was too busy soaking up the quality time with them.

I did, however, get a shot of the river walk in Hillsborough, which is gorgeous.

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And a super scrumptious dinner at Milltown:

– BOSS corn chowder with chili oil on top
– salad with lambic vinaigrette, sunflower seeds, and craisins
– baguette

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Their time here was way too short but we had fun. Hopefully they’ll come again soon, along with more family members who hopefully read this blog and see how fun it is here :D

Another fun thing my friends hosted-their bambino’s second birthday party! They had just gone strawberry picking and made dee-licious strawberry cupcakes with strawberry icing for little A’s birthday bash.

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This was my first time seeing Tiff and Tom’s new house and it is SO LOVELY! I want to say it was built in the 1920s? You walk up the front path through this lovely flowery garden and then the house is full of pretty arches and windows and brightness. Durham has all these charming hidden neighborhoods I’m just beginning to explore.

The party was a birthday brunch, a brilliant idea. Brunch is the best meal.

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Homemade waffles. THE WHOLE HOUSE SMELLED LIKE WAFFLES!

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I now have way too many friends with babies. But it is fun setting up friends and their babies. Dan and Bethany ended up bonding with Tiff and Tom through me, and they were also at this party. It was super cute watching Bethany feed waffles to little T, who was just SO excited about the party she didn’t feel like sitting down for that long. (Gah look at the baby jellies shoes!)

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Another fun occasion for which I was hosted was dinner at Myra and Alex’s. They, too, rock a waffle iron. For this particular meal, they used it to grill fresh apricots (first of the season!) which they put on a green salad (and added unpictured goat cheese and olive oil and balsamic vinegar)

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Plus cauliflower steaks and grape compote. Totally delicious, crazy healthy. There was almost too much fiber in this meal, even for me!

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It was a good thing I brought wine, because for the movie we watched after dinner, alcohol was mandatory…

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Recognize it? AGH!

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It was comically terrible. TERRIBLE. The dialogue was just absurd. And I was a fan of the leading man when he was on Once Upon a Time and was actually allowed to rock his Scottish accent and have hair on his body… but man, he was particularly awful and robotic in this movie.

And yes, it was awkward being the third wheel sitting next to a couple watching a movie that was, uh, on the erotic side. Fortunately, their daschund came and spooned with me for awhile.

MOVING ON!

On Memorial Day weekend, Alli and I took a spontaneous Single Girls trip to the beach! Gosh, it was so fun. In the DC area, planning on going to the beach for Memorial Day weekend is tantamount to planning to sit in at least two hours of stop and go traffic at some point in each leg of the journey (extending a supposedly four hour trip to at least six). Not so in this wonderful state of North Carolina.

As Alli and I motored along, we psychoanalyzed boys, sang along with the Beatles and listened to an entire episode of Prairie Home Companion which included a lovely performance from the Navy Band that reminded us what the holiday was all about (Mom, it took me right back to childhood listening to the performances on the Capitol lawn for Memorial Day). Instead of hours and hours of traffic, we had just a mile of it, when we were literally a mile from the beach. And it turned out there was a drawbridge up (!) so the traffic wouldn’t have even existed had it not been for that. Reasonable! Plus Alli knew a secret (free!) parking lot a few blocks from the beach so we were quickly out of traffic and headed for the ocean!

Yes, the beach was crowded, because duh, it was Memorial Day weekend. But it was sooooo wonderful being by the ocean! Lots of cute families playing together.

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There were just a few minuses to the day… the waves were pretty vigorous, and thus the ocean claimed my sunglasses and narrowly missed claiming my swimsuit bottom (thank God, eh?!) And the girls camped out on towels near us spent a depressing amount of time taking pictures with their selfie stick… but it really made me grateful that social media wasn’t the monster it was when I was in college and high school, and that I actually got to enjoy my time with my friends.

Alli and I did take a total of two selfies, and that was just to document our awesome floppy hats!

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I attribute the fact that I didn’t get violently sick to my stomach (as I have done when by the seaside every trip prior to this- weird, eh?!) to the hat’s ability to shield me from too much direct sun. And also bringing a giant water bottle and forcing down the fluids even when I wasn’t thirsty. Success!

It was an awesome day, and good to remember that you don’t need dudes to take you to the beach- girlfriends are the best! I took a long long walk on the beach all by myself and felt good about where I was in life.

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The day concluded with a cookout at my cousin’s. Love this: I went from about age 2 to about age 24 without seeing my cousin Elisabeth, because she lived in Wilmington. Now, however, she is in my life and she is the best! As Alli and I ran out the door in the morning, I sent Elisabeth a totally last minute text asking if she wanted to get ice cream or something since we would be in her area. She responded by saying that she and her husband and their adorable five year old daughter were having a cookout for their friends and their adorable five year old daughters, and that we should come along.

So after a lovely day at the beach we spent a lovely evening eating heavenly pulled pork, deviled eggs, cucumber salad, and other goodies; playing with Elisabeth and Carl’s super sweet beagle; bonding with my family and their sweet friends; and soaking up the lovely evening in their leafy, shaded, heavenly backyard. Elisabeth has an MPH so she also is a wonderful career mentor for me!

I ended the day back at home after another peaceful drive, tucking myself in with a smile on my face, my entire body coated in aloe vera (oh yeah, I burned my shoulders off). Life is good.

the sister visits!

I finished my last day of summer class (well, the *classroom* part of summer class- now I’m on the *internship* part of summer class which I may post about a bit in the future). I wound down for a few hours at home… and then was off to the train station to pick up my sister! Yay! Don’t know if I’ve officially announced this on the blog, but she is officially moving down to join me in NC this summer! I’ve already gotten a cousin and a sibling to move down… Mom, you’re next.

My first night with Malindi I was kind of dazed and groggy, so we stopped briefly at a cookout with my classmates and then vegged out in front of Inside Amy Schumer with takeout sushi. It was fabulous.

The next morning (Saturday), I cursed my consistent schedule which caused me to wake up at 7:30. I did things around the house and worked a bit on my paper that was due. Then I woke up my sister at 10:40 x_x Our first stop was for her to visit one of my classmates, who is seeking a roommate (and I think Malindi is going to live with her, yay!) Then we were off to brunch!

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We met my cousin Sophia at Lucha Tigre. I’d heard from my classmate that not only was Lucha Tigre not insanely mobbed like other Chapel Hill brunch places, they also had an additional asset called bottomless mimosas! Actually none of us ended up ordering them (I was driving, I don’t know anyone else’s problem…) but the food we got was exquisite.

We sat outside (Sophia is morally opposed to sitting inside anywhere one can sit outside. Pretty reasonable). We split unpictured spring rolls as an appetizer, which were SO GOOD. Not greasy at all, and the filling was super flavorful (it included taro, among other things).

I ordered the Mollets: Open-faced sandwich with melted cheese, black beans and pico de gallo with a fried egg on top and guacamole on the side. It was quite yummy, and reasonably priced.

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I will say, though, that shortly after we ordered, the people at the table next to us both got the chicken and waffles and we all sort of ogled at them and wanted to change our orders. That dish consists of a green tea waffle with Korean fried chicken on top with a spicy glaze. Next time, for sure!

We did a little strolling around town, and a bit of shopping. I attempted to coordinate a meetup at Saturday in Saxapahaw but everyone ended up bailing at the last minute. At which point Malindi went, “Oh good, I didn’t want to go”. Apparently she felt unable to tell me that until then, hahahaha.

So we had our picnic dinner inside. Malindi posed with it. She is adorable.

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I could eat in this nibbley fashion every day. We had baby carrots, spinach and artichoke dip, fresh cherries, Parrano cheese, and freshly baked bread. And for the vegetable component:

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My neighbor is getting a CSA through her office and has, she claims, far too much produce for any one household to eat. So I have been reaping the bounty! This is a riff on a Cooking Light recipe, but I didn’t bother measuring anything. This bowl contained:

– fresh squash and zucchini, made into noodles using a simple veggie peeler (you just use the outer layers- you toss out the inner seed-y layer)
– shaved parmesan
– chiffonaded fresh basil
– olive oil
– lemon juice
– salt and pepper

That’s it! It’s so good, and quite healthy.

After our indoor picnic, Malindi and I stayed in yet again and watched Remember the Titans. Wild women, we are.

The next day was of course the highlight of the weekend… we went and saw the kitties again! Goat House Cat Refuge is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places in the world. It’s particularly incredible this time of year because of course it is kitten season! You go into a little building called, I’m not kidding, the Kitten Cabana and there are just KITTENS EVERYWHERE WHO WANT YOU TO PLAY WITH THEM. I was too overstimulated to think of getting out my camera but my sister had hers.

Here I am petting the tiniest little fluffball. This kitten couldn’t have weighed more than a pound and kept going MEW MEW MEW pet me pet me pet me!

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This one as like WHY ARE YOU TAKING A PICTURE OF ME? WHY AREN’T YOU PETTING ME?! Agh the cuteness.

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Malindi had this cute baby ginger climb on her lap. The little kitten ended up taking a nap, aww.

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This was when my sister was going, “Agh! There are three kittens and I only have two hands!” (Note that we are both slightly glistening in these pictures because it was ninety degrees outside).

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So that was awesome. We could not stay that long because we had a donut date! I am slightly reluctant to admit this as it seems a betrayal of all my nutrition student peers. The fact is… everyone in my program loves donuts, and they have all been obsessively talking about Monuts Donuts for months. So I decided since it was around the corner from where my sister’s bus stopped, I should send her off with delicious donuts. Of course, when I started mentioning this to friends, they were all eager to join us.

My sister and I split this plate:

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From the right going clockwise, that’s a chocolate-mint yeast donut, a maple glazed donut, and (winner winner) a banana cardamom (!) cake donut. They were all SO GOOD! Super rich without being greasy. Perfectly balanced sweetness. Flavorful dough without a hint of dryness. Agh agh agh.

Incredible things about Monuts Donuts:
– Well, see above, first of all.

– It is on 9th street in Durham which is an area notoriously difficult for parking BUT THEY HAVE THEIR OWN LOT. And the inside is really really cute.

– My friend Andrea (because she is PRETTY) went to get a cup of coffee and another donut that I split with her and the store was about to close, so they gave her a big bag of free donuts. So that.

– My friend Alex got a sandwich which I am SO saving room for next time I go (which, uh, will hopefully not be very soon, because I think I’d weigh 400 pounds if I went to this place too often).
This wondrous creation contained: focaccia, avocado, lemon, aioli, seven minute egg, bacon, radish, bibb lettuce, parsley-chili pesto, sea salt. I mean really?!

Way too soon, we left donutland and I put my sister back on the bus. BUT! She will return in no time. Tell me, readers: doesn’t this post make you want to move here too?

finals time!

Oh hello! I was thinking like, “Hurray, the semester is done! I survived finals and have no more biochem [er, til next semester]! Happiness is here again! Summer relaxation! Lots of blogging!” When in fact I only had three days off and then started six hours a day of classes. With so so so much group work, eeeurgh. (Note that I wrote the prior paragraph nine days ago and am just now getting back to this post. Oy!)

Anyway, this was life around finals time.

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I made 134 flashcards for my biochem final. All about micronutrients- every water soluble vitamin, vitamin like compound, antioxidant system, mineral, AND what happens to your body when you have too much/not enough of them. Note that even with this profusion of flashcards, this wasn’t even a cumulative test. Blessedly, I had lots of study buddies. Who fed me!

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My friend Carolina (yes, she is named after our university! hahaha) made me a SUPER delicious Giada white bean dip- lots of fresh herbs and olive oil. And yummy dippers. This inspired me to buy baby carrots which, loath as I am to admit it, really are better than regular carrots and actually inspire me to eat raw vegetables.

Carolina’s cat has total free run through her house, which resulted in some amusing picture opportunities.

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He was not at all sure about me.

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He spent a lot of time sniffing my lower extremities (and my extremely old Toms- sniffing them could not have been particularly fun for him, but I guess he felt obligated to really get to know the stranger in his house).

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Action shot!

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After yummy snacks, Carolina even made me dinner! Our other friend had thought she could join us but then had other stuff come up (this poor girl had finals, a friend with Stage IV cancer, and emergency dental surgery all to contend with in the same week!). That friend can’t do the gluten, so Carolina was sweet enough to make a gluten free pasta salad. I then got to enjoy said pasta salad (despite the fact that I eat gluten til the cows come home): what made it so delicious was lots of avocado! And cheddar. Mm.

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Carolina said she puts sour cream on everything (she is Argentinian and it sounds like those guys really love their meat and dairy!) so she gave me some to try on the side, and yes, sour cream is delicious on avocado-cheddar-tomato pasta salad (but I bet you could have already guessed that).

My dear friend Andrea had a birthday dinner at Akai Hana, and I was EXTREMELY pleased with my sushi selection! (And it was massive, so I only needed one roll, though I did have a salad too). This was the Master Roll –  Spicy Tuna & Shrimp Tempura topped with Yellowtail, Avocado, Wasabi Tobiko, Wasabi Sauce, & Scallions

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Then two days later Andrea thought we might have to have an emergency girl talk meeting, to which I of course immediately agreed, being a good friend. But then crisis was averted (his phone was broken!) so instead we just gabbed. We sat outside at Root Cellar and they have a really pretty situation going on.

Roof:

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I did do some minimal cooking that week, the highlight of which was this:

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Trader Joe’s! Toasted whole wheat Tuscan pane bread, roasted cherry tomatoes, sliced fresh part-skim mozzarella, olive oil, and fancy balsamic my roommate got me in Asheville.

After spending a lottttt of the weekend studying, my friend invited me to join her and her bambino at my beloved Honeysuckle Tea House for live music. This band, Chocolate Suede, was SO GOOD! (and, uh, lotsa cuties in the band! One of whom privately serenaded my friend’s toddler on violin, awww)

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The toddler enjoyed clapping. It’s so funny with the little ones- I made this big case to Bethany about how great this place was for kids- music! Tea and snacks! Playground! Pond! Sandbox! And then once we got there her kiddo was like, MOM YOU DID NOT EVEN TELL ME THERE WOULD BE GRAVEL HERE and of course that was the most exciting part, hahahaha. Oh kids.

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Then once finals were done my friends totally spoiled me. Since my friend Alex quit his job he’s been doing super ambitious cooking. This was INCREDIBLE.

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It’s homemade pasta with homemade alfredo sauce (basically a ridiculous amount of extremely fancy and expensive parmesan with a token amout of cream to thin it out, hahaha) and delicious, perfectly roasted vegetables.

And then my classmate Sophia, the most perfect human being in the world (I’ve mentioned her seasonal treats a number of times in previous blog posts) decided that it would be only appropriate to host a fiesta, since our last final (biochem!) fell on Cinco de Mayo.

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There was lots of fabulous food but to me the most incredible thing were the homemade tortillas all fried up. Oh my goodness they were heavenly.

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Sophia’s mom was in town (and her mom has become like den mother to people in our program) and she is a pastry chef, so naturally she made us tres leches! Decorated with adorable peeps driving around in peep cars (apparently their family’s Easter tradition).

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The tres leches was sooo good and even better with Sophia’s homemade vegan coconut milk ice cream.

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A final note, since I promised, a bird update:

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These little guys definitely hit their awkward stage- you really see at this phase how birds and dinosaurs are related- and their mommy and daddy continued bringing them frequent snacks to get them strong. And then…

THEY LEFT THE NEST ON MOTHER’S DAY! WE WERE LITERALLY EMPTY NESTERS! It was sad, but we were very proud of them, and their parents’ success. And now we already have a new clutch going! Nature, man. Blink and you miss the important moments.

Things I Am Really Into Right Now

On the television front (cause though you bust your booty in grad school studying, television becomes essential to turn off your brain at the end of the day):

Girls

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So I resisted watching Girls for a long time. In part because I had no HBO access and feel a little old for pirated television. That problem was remedied when I got my cousin’s wifi password (thanks to my aunt’s ex husband who still pays for my cousin’s upgraded cable, and thanks to my cousin who shares it with all of her family and friends! With this new acquisition I of course, also binge watched Game of Thrones and cringed my way through the Scientology documentary).

I also didn’t watch Girls in larger part because I resent the fact that it’s cast full of famous people’s daughters and I doubted that Lena Dunham could really have any insights about what it truly means to be a normal twentysomething girl. And on that preconception, I must eat crow, because there are elements of the ridiculous about it (and, uh, that’s how you make a television show!) but man oh man there are aspects of it that are unnervingly accurate.

Those of you who don’t watch Girls are free to skip to later in this post, but I particularly want to opine about the Patrick Wilson episode, which I imagine was controversial. I thought at the beginning, as I imagine many people did, “YEAH RIGHT! No absurd circumstances would ever conspire in bringing together a socially awkward, immature, narcissistic, chubby and unremarkable looking girl in a bizarre romper (Hannah) with a movie-star-handsome doctor in a beautiful brownstone because of some ridiculous misunderstanding that involved her illegally dumping coffee shop debris in his trash bin. Lena Dunham wrote this episode as an excuse to make out with Patrick Wilson”. (Which, for the record, is something I might do if someone gave me a TV show :D)

But (spoiler alert) after spending two blissful days shacked up in this imaginary perfect world, playing ping pong and having deep talks on the patio and so on, Hannah does the thing that maybe we all fantasize about doing- she confesses her feelings! She starts crying and shakily admits, “Please don’t tell anyone this, but… I want to be happy.” He goes, “Uh, of course you do, everyone does” and she says, “Yeah, but I didn’t think I did. I made a promise such a long time ago that I was going to take in experiences, all of them, so I could tell other people about them and then maybe save them but it gets… so tiring. Trying to take in all the experiences for everybody, letting anyone say anything to me. And then I came here, and I see you, and you’ve got the fruit in the bowl and the fridge with the stuff.” She shares an anecdote of something degrading she had allowed to happen in her last relationship, and admitted that despite her buying into the cultural narrative to be game for everything and soak up experiences and not have any expectation of being cared for, she wants it! She wants to stop asking for bad things to happen to her- and oddly, I hugely related to that! I know it may sound insane, but really think about a time you were in a relationship (this is something my good girlfriend and I talk about a lot) where you found yourself so preoccupied about getting to the heart of things and getting things out in the open that you constantly prompted, constantly dug deeper until you were basically begging the other person to say or do something that would deeply hurt your feelings.

Anyway, she makes this very vulnerable confession and the dude visibly shuuuuts doooown. You see the interest and the desire leave his eyes and he soon takes off, emotionally and, just a bit later, physically. Of course! It was this brilliantly constructed, super condensed version of a relationship taking place over two days instead of, say, two years. At the beginning, newly in love, you tell yourself that this is it! this is perfect! you are with a movie star handsome guy and you love what he does and you love everything you do together! (She literally passes out in the shower at one point, an apt metaphor. And then he heroically finds her and takes care of her and strokes her hair. Oy.) He has the fruit in the bowl and the fridge with the stuff!

And I’m not saying that it’s relationship destiny that this has to happen, but it does happen a lot! There’s this wearing down of the walls and the vulnerability and (and I think this is particularly true in the post feminism era) women wanting to let their guard down and wanting to quit being strong all the time… and then getting bitten in the a** for it.

Anyway, for that episode alone I love it, but there are a lot of moments of brilliance. I also think it’s key to watch with a friend, preferably another twentysomething year old woman :) My roomie and I have been watching it together (often while drinking wine!) and it’s been so fun to talk about the episodes- sometimes in a deep way, as in the episode I just discussed, and other times just to be like, “AGH, MARNIE, DON’T DO IT! DO NOT GET ON THAT STAGE AND SING A KANYE WEST SONG! PLEASE GOD!”

On a much less serious note, I also have been loving Broad City.

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Since I don’t own a TV, I’ve never seen it on Comedy Central but (note to anyone else in my shoes!) its first season is on Amazon Prime.

Mom, you might be able to handle Girls, but don’t watch this show. There’s too much profanity and marijuana. You wouldn’t like it.

However, for those of you who can abide by such things, it is RIDICULOUSLY FUNNY. My friend introduced it to me and I rolled around on the floor giggling at her place, and then I came home and I still laughed out loud watching it alone (which, uh, demonstrates that I am a pretty terrible roommate).

I think Lincoln is my favorite character. My favorite moment of his was in the episode where Abby’s phone is stolen and at first Alana is convinced that Abby is dead. She tracks Abby down, but doesn’t tell Lincoln, so when they finally see him later in the episode, he says, “Why didn’t you tell me? I was so scared I baked a whole cake. And then I ate a whole cake.” The concept is already funny, but his delivery just killed me (in a good way).

On the literary front:

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This has been out for awhile but I’m just getting around to reading it, which is silly given that it brings together some of my favorite things. First of all, Curtis Sittenfeld wrote Prep and I loooooved that book, so she has been on my radar. Second of all, I have for many years been deeply curious about the secret inner life of Laura Bush. I am not, not, not a fan of her husband (and I could go on about this but I won’t) but she has always seemed… benign with a secret. In part, of course, everyone suspects, because of the major tragedy in her early life.

Anyway, this is ostensibly a novel but for all intents and purposes is the author’s speculative look at Laura Bush’s life. I will confess that I haven’t finished the book yet but enjoy it enough to already recommend it. Sittenfeld is exploring the character (“Alice”) from such an interesting angle. There’s a lot of focus on formative experiences that seem, at least at first, not to have much to do with Alice’s life arc but are nonetheless so well written you really enjoy them and, now that the story is progressing, clearly will have far reaching impacts.

On the healthy living front:

calcium chews

Our last unit in biochemistry (at least, in this semester of biochemistry; I have two more eeeeaaaaauuuugggghhh) we focused a bit on vitamins and minerals. This convinced me that I had to get serious about building bone mass before I hit 30 (which is roughly when we hit maximum bone mass, ladies). I like that these contain vitamin D as well, which is necessary for calcium absorption and a vitamin in which I’ve been deficient in the past. But, truthfully, I mainly like them because they are chocolate duhhh. They upset my tummy at first but I seem to’ve adjusted to them.

PSA about calcium: I kind of thought my body had it figured out. I knew that there were circumstances under which your body absorbs more calcium, when you need it more.

However, what I didn’t know, is that your body’s calcium is largely indifferent to your bone health. Your body’s #1 priority is to keep a steady level of calcium in your blood. (Quite rightly, as calcium is needed for muscle contractions like, oh, in your heart). Therefore, it is true that when your blood calcium is low, your body will take a variety of steps that you absorb more calcium (both that you make more receptors for it in your intestines and that you lose less in your urine). HOWEVER. At the same time it is doing that, it is turning to the other handy calcium source in your body: your bones. The calcium in your bones is removed by osteoclasts (basically, bone busting cells) and it does a great job of keeping your blood levels steady. However, this is no bueno for your bones.

The moral of the story is, get enough calcium. If you can rock three servings of dairy a day, do it. If you don’t feel inclined or able to do that, supplement!

Also on the food front, less about nutrition, reduced guilt push pops!

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Total impulse purchase at Whole Foods but gooooosh these are good! Only 80 calories each, and they still have that wonderful satisfying push pop action that really helps you savor your frozen snack enjoyment.

Also, I have been extremely into hula hooping:

circa 1965:  A blonde girl in a light-colored blouse and a skirt twirls eight hula hoops simultaneously while standing outdoors in a yard.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I taught my neighbor’s five year old son to do it and (demonstrating the amazing neuroplasticity at that age) he was doing it pretty much effortlessly and perfectly after about twenty minutes. He can also do it around his neck, hahaha. Hula hooping is nice because it is fun and still at least moderately physically active, so usually on days when I’m too exhausted for a workout I can at least hula hoop while I watch Grey’s Anatomy. Also, I hula hooped for my friend’s one year old and she thought it was the most hilarious thing she had ever seen so then I put the hula hoop down on the ground and she sat in the middle of it and I held the edge of the hula hoop and ran in circles around her to give her the hula hooping experience :D It was precious.

Finally, good walking podcast:

jillian michaels show

As I’ve dealt with end of the semester projects and finals, I’ve made a deal with myself that I’m going to be kind to myself regarding expectations about healthy diet and exercise. Set my expectations low, and then be pleased when I exceed them. Something that has worked really well for me is taking long walks. Fine, it’s not super sweaty cardio or weights, but it’s physical activity and it’s good for my physical and mental health. And, having this podcast to keep me company is very pleasant. Jillian is sometimes overly preoccupied with certain things that I, as someone in dietetics program, find to be overkill (like goitrogenic foods, or the perils of high fructose corn syrup- yes, HFCS is junk but the excess fructose hasn’t shown to really have much of any worse effect than sucrose; our problem is that we’re eating too much sugar, period). However, I love her guest speakers (particularly the endocrinologist) and I think her advice to callers is usually spot on (people calling about weight loss get a conversation about mental health, which makes me really happy). Note that I am years behind (literally years, I’m listening to 2011 episodes) and I’m not wild about the direction the show seems to’ve taken lately (the one recent episode I listened to, Janice her hilarious producer had quit- waaaaah- and there was a lot more product placement. However, if you want a diverting podcast to make you feel good about yourself for exercising while you listen to it, this is a pretty good one.

On the home front:

WE GOT A NEW STOVE! Our stove had always been terrible (at some points there was a frightening metal prong sticking out of the wall, the front right burner only worked about one in three times) but after gazillions of maintenance requests, we got MAD when they offered us a new lease that, once again, raised our rent. And we said WE WILL NOT RENEW UNLESS YOU MEET OUR NEEDS. Not only had our stove always been lousy, in the last weeks we had it, we’d started to smell burning plastic every time we turned on the oven or a burner.

So, blessed be, our new baby.

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It’s none too fancy but it actually has a window and a light now, and there’s nothing sketchy about it. All I need! I am a simple girl at heart!

Also, this is very old lady of me (as in my neighbor’s mom does this and I thought it was a good idea so I started doing it too) but I want to keep my burners shiny and new and un-nasty so I put aluminum foil over them :D

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BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! Along with the new stove and an unpictured fan that actually works (ooooh!) and is handled by a fancy remote control (aaaah!) we got a new dishwasher too!

The old one left a nasty film on everything it washed, and many things just… never got clean. This one actually seems to be a mini version of the one my mom has at her house (which was Consumer Reports approved… and having the same dishwasher also just makes me feel closer to my mom :D). It gets the job done and again- so happy to have a basic, functioning kitchen appliance!

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Also on the home front, the baby birds have gotten bigger! They’ve started cheeping (when their mummy or daddy comes to regurgitate food into their little beaks, when they start hysterically cheeping, I fancy that they’re going “Snacks! Snacks! Snacks!”) They’re also starting to experimentally flap their wings. Such little goofs.

(Even as I call them goofs and laugh at how they’ve entered their awkward phase, it is pretty mind boggling that these little creatures have brains that are probably the size of peas and yet these little babies already know how to open their beaks, their mama and dad already knew how to build a nest in just the right safe place, and sit on the eggs and keep them warm and the dad took care of the mama, and now they find the right morsels of food, and chew them and break them down just right to feed to their babies, and teach their babies how to fly. Sob sob sob!)

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Also, did you know there was a heartbreakingly beautiful, intricately illustrated children’s/adult’s book about birds becoming parents? It’s called A Sky Full of Kindness. We learned this because Alli’s friend Jessalyn called her and said, “Get a towel. I have something that will make you cry happy tears.” I think our first collective thought was “… a towel?” but when she came over and shared this book with us it really was pretty profuse-sobbing-inducing. (Also, Jessalyn has already been a part of this bird journey… in that when Alli talked offhand about the mama bird faithfully sitting on her eggs in a thunderstorm it had caused Jessalyn to openly weep.)

Finally, I have been immensely proud of myself because I have kept an orchid plant alive for WELL OVER SEVEN MONTHS (it was a birthday present, which is how I know this). I thought the last bloom had fallen off and was sort of idly thinking about whether it was worth researching online whether an orchid can regenerate and if not to just compost it.

Anyway, I had this dream… I was with my mom and my sister, and we were looking out the window at all these dead things- dead plants in vases and dead trees- and then my sister closed the curtain and reopened it, and this time there were beautiful white orchids in bloom. She kept opening and reopening the curtains and there kept being new flowers and new vases we kept softly saying, “It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!” It felt very religious.

And then, I got up the next morning thinking about that dream, and as I stepped into my living room I saw that there were four little buds on my orchid plant.

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I wouldn’t say I’m an especially intuitive person. I also wouldn’t say I have been a particularly religious person since the sudden, stupid, unfair, horrible death of my dear cousin.

And yet, I give a fair amount of credence to dreams. Members of my family (some passed, some still living) have had a lot of meaningful/prophetic dreams over the years, and as a result I’m not apt to discount it when I have one of my own. It was a dream about new life and rejuvenation, and it left me feeling such a sense of hope.

So, to wrap up what has been a largely trivial blog post, I want to note and express gratitude for the fact that I am feeling hope. Somehow the intensity of the grief that my family has felt has also resulted in all of us loving each other fiercely, and appreciating the times that we do get to spend together. It was so important for everyone to grieve together, and it’s so important for me to feel like I’m carrying some of Chris with me as I go about the rest of my life (years that are precious and most surely not guaranteed). It’s also important to take note that we contribute the most to the world, and do the most for others, and get the most meaningful experiences out of our lives when we have hope. However we define it, and however it causes us to live our lives, I’m feeling a lot of hope right now. It simultaneously it feels like something I’ve struggled to earn and worked hard to get (a mental health refresher was very necessary for me with the crazy events of this spring), and at the same time, hope feels like a gift.

wrapping up the semester

The end of the semester is a crazy, crazy time. Luckily I had some fun times mixed in with the crazy amounts of projects/papers/group presentations/studying for finals/etc.

So delighted to’ve had my cousin Sophia move to town with her hubs Mike (hopefully the first of many relatives embracing the joy that is NC life). Lucky me got to attend her birthday dinner- Mike’s parents treated and invited me along!

Elements is a lovely spot to celebrate a special occasion- look how prettily they decorated our table!

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We split some appetizers- there was calamari that was quite nice and these tempura asparagus say whaaat?! They were good!

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For my entree, I got the scallops. Holy cow! A big adjustment from moving to the DC area to lovely North Carolina: if you order scallops, you go from getting three to getting… eight?! They were great (and abundant!) but the best part was the little mushrooms in the dish (oyster mushrooms maybe?) that soaked up the sauce and were velvety and addictive.

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Another fun outing was hanging out with my friends and their bambino at Carrboro’s central spot, the co-op market (love a town where everyone hangs out on the grocery store lawn!). The bambino turned one in February and is just awesome and adorable at walking. She did a lot of mad giggling, and stared in awe every time a motorcycle or other heavy piece of machinery went by.

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I wen to the co-op another time during a studying lull. Treated myself to al fresco lunch- a selection from the hot bar (it’s always good when classes get stressful to force oneself to eat vegetables- difficult, but worthwhile) and a kombucha on the side for hopefully enhanced immune health.

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Back story- in my medical nutrition therapy, we’ve been doing case studies on different chronic diseases. I was in the Type 1 Diabetes group (I may share about that project) and one of the last groups to present did a case study about chronic kidney disease. Because that group contained Sophia, who is basically a perfect human being (stunningly gorgeous, an amazing baker, brings cake and leads rounds of Happy Birthday on classmates’  special days, writes thoughtful notes to people who get dumped, hosts parties with our whole class, etc.) there was a little special extra something at the end of their presentation.

Behold, kidney cookies!

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She said she ordered the cookie cutter online and they ended up tiny, so she made a lottt of cookies :) I enjoyed a few while figuring out how to dose patients on dialysis.

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On one of the last day of classes (before we started “reading days” for finals, argh!) the School of Public Health hosted a party for all the students. The free food trucks were in theory a fabulous idea, but ultimately involved 70+ minute lines.

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This led to selfie opportunities (people who don’t know me: I’m in the very front on the right. People who do know me: it’s so weird that I have this big important group of people in my life who you haven’t met!)

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Love these people. It wasn’t so bad sharing those minutes with them (and we were all, frankly, happy to give our brains a bit of a break).

The tacos we got at the end of the line were… yknow, tacos. Heh. Probably not totally worth it, but they fueled me through epidemiological data analysis (eeeeuuuuurrrgggghhh). Also got some natural brand chips that were basically hot cheetos- fun little throwback!

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My friends spontaneously had me over for dinner- it was soooo nice to be fed, and so nice to take a Friday night off to watch Bull Durham. Before, of course, spending the remainder of the weekend furiously working on health policy management analysis questions and a presentation about obesity management options, among other things.

Anyway, my awesome friend Myra made buffalo cauliflower pizza! Cauliflower made into buffalo chicken like bites, plus blue cheese on the pizza, and, once the pizza was out of the oven, a sprinkling of cool crunchy celery and creamy ranch dressing. Tasty junk food that is at least a bit reduced-guilt!

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Then came another studying weekend.

Sidebar: I was talking to my mom on the phone the other day, and told her about (a concept I got secondhand from my friend Andrea) Dan Savage’s theory about “price of admission” in relationships. The idea is, everyone, even in really happy relationships, is going to find something annoying about their partner. They bite their nails, they watch trashy TV, their best friend bugs you, etc. That’s price of admission, and you get all the perks that come with being in that Couples Club that makes it worth it (companionship and support and laughter so on). But I was telling my mom… I’m just not missing that much about being in a relationship. Right now, to me, with everything else going on in my life (and all the other sources of companionship and support and laughter I have) the price of admission to get into a relationship is not worth it.

But the one exception is, I am embarrassed to admit BRUNCH! I am a super stereotypical girl and do want someone to accompany me to brunch. I miss admission to brunch.

But eh, for now I’ll take myself. And, of course, flashcard making materials.

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Above is brunch from Jessees: their strong and delicious coffee and their super yummy open faced biscuits. Toasted biscuits topped with maple roasted turkey, scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and cheese. Note that I took some of this home afterwards (it’s quite a tall and messy dish) and the leftovers actually reheated well! Even with eggs! Score!

Finally, a note on nature.

First, the pitfalls of nature: the pollen here is out of *@#(%&@#%& control. I did not know there were places in this world where there was just a coating of yellow on bloody everything. It’s particularly gross when you think about the fact that it’s basically tree sperm.

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In addition, even in places that aren’t permanently yellow in April and May, I am violently allergic to pollen. So my situation here is even more insane. I am a snot machine!

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However, Mother Nature did me a solid lest I grew to hate her:

we have babies!

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In general birds seem to be a big fan of my apartment complex, and I noticed a particularly high activity level on my porch starting a few weeks ago. Alli was going to go dump out the (dead) contents of a plant pot, when she found a nest!

We then spent quite a few days looking, engrossed, at mama bird, who we named Phoebe (because we initially thought she was a Phoebe; though it turns out she is, in fact, a house finch). Phoebe’s baby daddy has proven to be a dedicated and responsible father: while Phoebe faithfully kept her eggs warm, her man (who, incidentally, is pretty darn handsome with a bright red breast and face) would come and faithfully regurgitate snacks into her mouth.

Then once the kiddos were born both mummy and daddy came bringing them nourishment (we learned that house finches nourish their young on non-meat protein from grains and seeds; my roommate laughed and said of course they were vegetarians, living in the crunchy place they do). The parents also seem to do sort of a tag-team nest cleaning maneuver where one of them pulls out stuff with their beak and the other one does some crazy wing flapping.

The babies have grown since the picture above was taken, and I’ll have an update for y’all soon, but for now I thought I’d let y’all see them as they entered the world, as just little fluffy fluff balls of fluff dawwww!