summer adventures part 2

Look at this glamorous hipster slug that was hanging out on my front stoop!

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Look at these pretty flowers in the arboretum!

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Look at this awesome trio of dips at Tandem! On the left, eggplant and tomato; in the center, green pea and avocado; on the right, herbed yogurt. YUM.

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Just blissful. So rich and creamy.

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We met for drinks but I was dehydrated or summat so I just got a Diet Coke hahaha. I’m in it for the snacks, man.

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Look at this fancy herb-infused iced coffee! Sometimes if I have time I need to kill in Durham between work ending (I work in Durham now) and nightlife beginning, I go hang out at Cocoa Cinnamon.

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Look at these mussels! I guess one week Tandem was just really working for me because I went there again for a Saturday brunch with my sister and her boyf. Why do they put mussels on the appetizer list?! I don’t want to eat three mussels and share them with people! I want to eat ALL THE MUSSELS!

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This summer has been a bit exciting because I have been on some dates (!) because I did the dating app thing (!!!)

Maybe I’ll post about that later. No promises.

But for now I will chronicle some lady dates because I have some very high quality girlfriends.

I met Emily at the Durham farmers market one Saturday and we strolled around admiring puppies and foodstuffs and crafts. Caught up with some other friends there.

Then had an extreeeeeemely decadent breakfast at Rise. This is the huevos rancheros biscuit which has beans, fried egg, pico, avocado… Lordy Lordy.

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Then somehow we ended up at a cake pop shop? I insisted on treating Emily to one since she ended up driving me all over Durham for our lady date.

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I had recently ODd on chocolate so I opted out but next time I am DEFINITELY trying the salty PB cookie dough cake ball I MEAN COME ON.

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The main activity of the day was pedicures. So so fun!

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Another lady date with my sister at my favorite sushi place near my old apartment complex. As usual, I got the bento box with a crunch roll and sashimi. Unfortunately, not as usual, the sashimi was almost totally frozen agh!

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The next week my friend Leesie had a birthday dinner at this new place, bartaco. Tacos were pretty good! And fun company.

But let’s be real, the night really began when everyone else left and Leesie and I extended our lady date and hung around at the bar gossiping a bit longer… annnnnd… we got these churros.

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Ugh, they were perfect. And then dunked in bittersweet chocolate sauce, AGH!

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Here we are trying to look glamorous. Look at Leesie’s smizing!

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So in retrospect this post was a chronicle about going out to eat an offensive amount. I promise I have some posts about cooking to share! Coming soon!

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summer adventures part 1

We’re doing it. We’re catching up. I don’t totally want to forget this summer!

I’ll have actual things to share about life developments and so on but for now I just have lovely pictures and brief reminiscences of various events.

Here is where I spent my fourth of July:

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Amazing, right?! So gorgey and idyllic! So cool and refreshing! You can’t really tell in the pic but there is a lovely rope swing off which to jump into the refreshing river! Huzzah!

OH WAIT. Then I saw a snake in the water SWIMMING DIRECTLY IN OUR DIRECTION. It’s a real testament to how sarcastic I am with my friends that Colton thought I was messing with him when I said “Snake. Snake. SNAKE.”

We raised a ruckus and made a lot of noise and the snake semi diverted its path in the water but also seemed to be giving us a sassy look as it headed toward our side of the river bank only slightly downstream of us. I have seen a water moccasin and I don’t think this was one… but it was still horrifying.

I revived myself with some delicious red meat.

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Later that week we had a going away party for Pranish at the cool rooftop bar of The Durham Hotel. That’s been kind of THE hangout spot for summer 2017, according to everyone I know.

Pranish looked real cool with his bottle of Powerade. Trying to preempt a hangover I guess?

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I personally ordered a hard cider that contained carrots (?!) one cause I was curious and two cause it was one of the cheaper things on the menu. It was NEON orange (like, orange soda orange) and way too sweet. But oh well it’s good to experiment.

There was Tomato Day at the Carrboro farmer’s market. That’s always fun! And crazy, and crowded, and humid. But fun.

Tomato day involves a lot of tomato education (lol) and tomato samples. And music, and face painting, and the usual adorable Carrboro nonsense.

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I am not hardcore enough for peppercorn goat milk gelato. I imagine it would taste rather good melted on a steak?

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Moving on: because I am frighteningly cool, I attended a Game of Thrones premiere party. At The Baxter, a bar/arcade.

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Everyone had LOTS of fun cheering for Arya!

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A few days later it was time for a fun family visit- my cousin Sophia (mama of cute squishy baby Chase whom I’ve babysat a lot) had her sisters visiting!

Ashley (youngest, lives in London) and Nicole (oldest, lives in Florida). I talk some smack about youngest siblings and what a mess they are, BUT, Ashley successfully got Sophia to leave the house more than anyone else has basically since the baby was born. So. Go youngest siblings.

I took the girls to Honeysuckle Tea House, which was, duh, gorgeous. Love that place.

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SO may happy butterflies!

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Then we got lunch at Venable, one of my fave spots. I’d gotten a smoothie at the tea house so I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I just got a Caprese salad which was of course sublime.

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Another day, another Caprese- I took my friends Kyle and Shaylen to Fiction Kitchen in Raleigh and we split this gorgeous appetizer:

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That’s burrata (like mozzarella but the center is oozy cream and incredible) along with veg and a really delightful pistachio pesto.

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So Fiction Kitchen is all vegetarian, which I knew longtime vegetarian Shaylen would enjoy. She got their real showstopper, the “chicken” and waffles, which is really really ridiculously good. If you, dear readers, ever go there, get that, at least the first time you go. It is, rightfully, their claim to fam.e

This time around, I got the vegetarian pulled pork which came with a smashed potato cake, plus I opted for a side of black beans. This was still real solid stuff. Secretly I love pulled pork, even though ethically I can’t really get behind eating pig. So this was great.

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Another outing! Embarrassed to admit it took me four years of living in NC before I went to the Durham farmer’s market. It is EXCELLENT and huge and has music and food trucks and a public park nearby for kiddos to play and all kinds of good stuff. The first time I went there was a homemade pickle contest!

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These were my two favorites I tried:

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Overall the selection was excellent although there was one, pineapple kimchi, that tasted like it had come from the depths of Hell 😦

Anyway it was funny that this pickle contest happened on the day I was meeting these friends: Dan, Bethany, and their daughter T… because… Bethany is pregnant! Like, hello, pregnant woman plus literally dozens of kinds of pickles. Amazing.

Also, here is T rocking her dad’s hat and sunglasses. She really is the coolest kid I know. We are basically besties.
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More to come!

reveling in summer

Summer is extremely my favorite season. Here are some ways I’ve been soaking it up.

I went to a backyard yoga class that my friend’s boss organized as a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity. Such a great cause, such a beautiful day, such good friends. My friend Leesie took this picture and I love how the filter on her phone makes everyone look like supermodels πŸ˜‰

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I hit up Monuts with Colton and Pranish. I’d eaten a bunch of ice cream or some such nonsense the night before so I was a real tool and got a salad at a donut place. However, let the record state the salad was SO SO GOOD! Asparagus, capers, ricotta salata, peppery greens, soft cooked egg- all the yummy things!

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This picture nicely sums up the interaction between Colton and Pranish.

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More tasty eats (considerably less virtuous)- when my dad was in town helping me car shop, I suggested we all go for some traditional NC bbq. Getting my dad to go anywhere for a nice meal is like pulling teeth, but barbecue is cheap and informal and

We hit up Allen and Son, which is one of the most popular places around here. My dad and my sister Malindi’s boyf both got BBQ pork sandwiches.

Malindi and I opted to split this gargantuan seafood platter.

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It had perrrrrrfectly fried shrimp and flounder, hush puppies, and that big crab cake that was made of imitation crab meat and was nonetheless absolutely delicious.

It came with two sides. We chose potato salad and baked beans. It is ABSURD that this amount of food is meant to feed one person.

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This was REALLY fun: my roommate had a birthday and she and her hilarious friends chose “A Wigged-Summer Night’s Dream” for the theme hahahaha. It was in her friends Jesalyn and Esteban’s dreamy backyard which is full of beehives and lovely flowers and veggies and fairy lights and feral kittens who they feed.

Alli’s friends went all out for the occasion. I like how one gentleman improvised fairy wings from a racquetball racquet case he found at a thrift shop.

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This area was dubbed the “Snuggle Tent” hahahaha.

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The foodstuffs reflected the excellent taste of the birthday girl- fruit a billion kinds of cheese, cucumber sandwiches with very generous smears of cream cheese…

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… and boob cupcakes!Β πŸ˜‚

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Shortly thereafter was my sister’s birthday. I took her out for a day of fun. We got mani-pedis:

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And then had the most increeeeeeeeeeeedible dinner at Gocciolina. Any locals looking for a sweet date spot, this is it. I mean, I was there with my sister and her boyfriend so not so much for me… but the ambiance is lovely and the food is INCREDIBLE.

Eric got a beer, Malindi and I both got prosecco (in VERY generous glasses hahahaha).

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We split this appetizer of shrimp and summer squash bruschetta. The sauce was sweet and tangy and rich and a bit spicy and everything was perfectly cooked and the bread was charred… *swoon*

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For my entree, I got a special of soft shell crab because it is essentially impossible for me to turn down soft shell crab. This was perfectly fried and came with a minty, caper-y cucumber salad that beautifully cut the richness. Such an amazing mix of flavors and textures.

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The birthday girl got another special, hand cut noodles with goat cheese and an ENORMOUS sprinkling of truffles.

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And then the birthday girl got this GOOOOOOORGEOUS chocolate almond tart for dessert. Like the classiest smore you’ve ever seen.

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Another fun weekend activity was going to Living Kitchen with a friend. It’s probably a little too LA to last very long in Chapel Hill, but we had some yummy snax there. This smoothie involved cacao and maca and banana and was pretty dreamy. We also split some bread and almond butter.

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My cousin’s dog Cara revels in summer too. She’s got life figured out.

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SPEAKING OF DOGS. Do you, too, go to a bar and go “Yes well alcohol is fine I guess but I’d really be happier if there were a dog here to pet.”

I give you the best bar experience ever:

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This was not, like, a bar mascot, nor was it anyone’s service dog. Just a random dude was like “yes, I will bring my dog Rowdy along to this fancy bar because this is America”. IT WAS GREAT.

Met friends for drinks at Belltree, a speakeasy that replaced Peccadillo (another speakeasy in the same location, which was frankly speakeasy-er. Like, a real speakeasy should not have a sign on the door, IMO).

The drinks were classy, but the dog was priceless.

Later that weekend, went with some girlfriends on a day trip to the BEEEEEEACH!

We started with picking up a nutritious breakfast at Wake n Bake Donuts. Do Jessie and I look excited at all?!

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Clearly I opted to take a lot of pictures of said donuts. Really wanted to document them for posterity.

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We ended up eating them with a generous sprinkling of sand, hahahahaha. Having your food get gross is just one of the pleasures of the beach.

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We went to Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, which is one of my preferred beaches because it’s less crowded and there’s less of a kerfuffle about parking and things. Also dogs are allowed and we saw some REAL cute puppies.

The water was dreamy. I went for many long walks. I was there with all girlfriends so we were rowdy and talked about girly things and appraised all the possibly single men around us. It was grand.

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Then we ate our weight in seafood.

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workweek meals

My old shrink taught me the phrase “the more you have to do, the more you get done”, and I think there’s something to it. I am really enjoying the creative expression of creating a daily work lunch (and breakfast, for that matter). Some of it is the honeymoon phase of the new job. Some of it is having a more predictable schedule, which is conducive to being more intentional about completing tasks such as cooking. And some of it is that it is glorious summer, and I am surrounded by wonderful produce with which to create tasty noms.

Blackberries from the bushes in my front yard:

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Makes yogurt bowls (check out the nifty fork, knife, spoon ‘n chopsticks kit my auntie put in my Christmas stocking one year!)

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Berries (sometimes black from the yard, sometimes blue from the store), yogurt, Trader Joe’s bran cereal, lots of walnuts (<< we’re having a love affair right now for some reason)

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Tasty lunch/dinner

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I saw the Smitten Kitchen recipe for cornbread panzanella and went oooOoooOoh yeaaaaahhhhh!

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But worry not, I definitely didn’t stress following the recipe perfectly (e.g. I eschewed lettuce) and it still came out delicious.

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I learned that one could make really fantastic crockpot pulled chicken with the following ingredients:

  • boneless skinless chicken thighs (<< I tried it with breast meat and it was considerably less good- get the thighs! The calorie difference is minimal and they’re usually cheaper!)
  • lots of apple cider vinegar
  • molasses and/or brown sugar
  • mustard
  • soy sauce
  • cumin

Cooked in the slow cooker for say two hours.

Shredded for many tasty possibilities; but honestly mostly eaten straight up.

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AWESOME salad, made by throwing together leftovers:

  • cooked farro (so chewy and lovely)
  • chunked baked sweet potato
  • kale
  • goat cheese
  • walnuts (see above re: love affair)
  • apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and maple syrup thrown together in a vinaigrette

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Easy, real cheap dinner:

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  • Pack of ramen (or half pack, depending on the size)- my stepmother got me some stuff that was mostly labeled in Chinese but which had a rather sobering sodium section of the nutrition facts label. But it was yummy!
  • 1/2 or less of the flavor pack that comes with the ramen
  • kale
  • fried egg on top

Cook the kale with the noodles (should be five minutes or less) then put in a minimum of the seasoning pack, perhaps with some extra hot sauce though) and put an over-easy fried egg on top of the whole mixture and break the yolk- it mixes into the broth and is so rich and dreamy.

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With the rich broth it’s nice to have something nice and fresh and crunchy on the side. I took fresh farmers market cucumbers (which I had forgotten until I had them at my friends’ house, are SO MUCH BETTER THAN STORE BOUGHT CUCUMBERS IT IS RIDICULOUS. They are seedier but their taste is incredible) and did a quick pickle with rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, a little sesame oil and hot sauce, maybe a dash of something sweet like honey.

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More gorgey produce: I watered my roommate’s tomatoes when she was out of town and she bade me eat any ones that ripened while she was on vacay. This guy did:

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1/2 this big tomato went into a tomato basil salad with olive oil and balsamic; a classic for a reason. Served with fresh summer corn and really good meatballs (from the store: they involved chicken and mozzarella and basil).

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The other bit of the tomato went, with some of its cherry brethren, into a saute pan with a generous amount of olive oil. After they cooked down, I tossed them with whole what gnocchi, fresh basil, and shredded Beemster cheese. You poor things, I wish you could have smelled this.

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Still have done a bit of eating out. Met a friend at a Wednesday evening food truck rodeo. We enjoyed some live music there (it was funny, the guy sounded a bit like Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam- but Eddie Vedder at EVERY SINGLE SONG HE SANG. Eddie Vedder singing Purple Rain. Eddie Vedder singing You Are My Sunshine. So silly!)

We both got tofu bibimbap from the Korean food truck. It was pretty good. And so pretty!

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I tried Cocoa Cinnamon, a really well known and well liked local coffee shop. Though I went to their second, less-cool location.

I got a strawberry ginger shrub (aka fizzy vinegar soda-y thing) and it was SO GOOD. But had all the sugar of a Coca Cola so not a particularly healthy choice. A bit of vitamin C, at least.

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On the activity front, I was doing a lotttt of walking for awhile there. Taking my usual neighborhood rambles. Admiring the gorgey flowers.

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So funky!

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However, I recently opted to take advantage of my Duke employee benefits and join a gym. This was due in part to:

  • It is brutally hot outside in NC
  • I saw Wonder Woman (twice, actually! May reflect on it later) and it made me want to strength train like woah. So I have set a goal of strength training of some kind (yoga, Body Pump, lifting on my own maybe at some point if my confidence grows?) at least once a week.

More eats and maybe some exercise talk to come!

finishing out spring

Let’s go back a few weekends. It was still technically spring, but there were all kinds of warm-weather tasty treats happening.

I went to Raleigh for the day to hang with my sis. She and I met up with her boyf Eric for lunch. He works at the old state Capitol building which is pretty cool (he’s an aide to the governor). We grabbed food at Raleigh Raw.

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A kombucha and this snazzy poke bowl that involved mango, avocado, dragon fruit, raw salmon, and more tastiness:

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When I visit my sister her cat does not have the best etiquette about allowing people privacy in the bathroom.

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Another Friday involved a very fun girls’ night at my friend Sam’s house (her husband, Alex, is a medical resident and has, like, 18 hour overnight shifts at the hospital, yikes). Sam had a tasty spread already going. I brought this tasty tahini banana bread (in lieu of chocolate I swirled in some homemade strawberry compote).

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Later that weekend we had a mini class reunion since one of our grad school group of friends was down from DC, where she now works at the department of health and human services.

Colton was his usual charming self.

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Pranish hosted and talked a bit game about how he would make us sous vide tandoori chicken that would be the best thing we’d ever tasted.

Well, he almost immediately broke his sous vide machine (though in a fatal design flaw, this machine that’s designed to use warm water to cook food has a key component that cannot get wet- like, what?!)

So we had this dinner, finally, at about 9:30.

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Continued to take lots of weekend walks around town.

I have a number of neighborhood cats I visit. Clearly it is shedding season.

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A real highlight of spring, though, took place in this field:

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Can you identify the plants?

They are…

 

Strawberries!

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I went with my friends Dan and Bethany and their sweet lil three year old. It was a perfect day in that it was still just a little bit cool out, so we were comfortable picking the berries, instead of keeling over with heat and physical labor!

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We picked a very immoderate amount of strawberries, so we went back to their house and immediately made (unpictured) strawberry lemonade as well as some freaking spectacular strawberry shortcake.

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keeping weekdays interesting

Obviously with the unemployment stress situation (again, as of my start date, June 5th, those days are behind meΒ πŸ™Œ Β πŸ™Œ Β πŸ™Œ Β ) I had to work hard to add some structure to my weekdays as to not go totally insane. Here are some things I got into!

Culture:

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Back when I worked at the planetarium (to date, the most fun job I’ve ever had!) I worked with the creators of the excellent North Carolina Science Festival. Since then I’ve tried to hit up some of their fun events.

They had telescopes and (adorably geeky) scientists explaining their work. Plus a panoramic view of the buildings of Durham. Plus drinks (though I was DD so I abstained).

Kittens:

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Have I guys told you the AMAZING STORY OF MY FRIEND RESCUING A KITTEN FROM THE HIGHWAY?! Alex was drivin’ along from Chapel Hill to Durham and saw something small darting around in the traffic (!) He daringly pulled his car up onto the median and chased down this precious kitten. The kitten was hissing and trying to run away but was too weak to climb up onto the median sob sob sob! So Alex was able to snatch him up and prevent him getting hit by a car!

The vet estimated his age at four weeks old. He was still very very smol! He should’ve been still with his mommy. But fortunately he was able to eat solid food.
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Another cute thing:

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I was watching my cousin’s baby like once a week and I really miss my time with him! The face above was his reaction to broccoli hahahahahaha. He actually ate some, it was just clearly very challenging to his brain.

Nature:

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Took a lottttttt of walks! Helped keep me sane!

Job interview after job interview after job interview

I tended to reward myself for job interviews (which is a dumb thing to do- you don’t actually get $ for interviewing for a job!) I had this fancy shmancy turmeric chai thingie with mysterious ayurvedic ingredients. I interviewed for a job that required someone with a masters degree for a position that could’ve been done, well, by a motivated high schooler. Oh, these modern times.

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After the interview I was already in downtown Durham so I got myself a dreamy lunch at Toast. Three kinds of crostada (avocado-parmesan/ goat cheese, pepper and honey/ ricotta and beet) and a bowl of potato leek soup. Delicious!

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The meals I made at home were none too exciting but here are a few examples:

tuna melt, brussels sprouts, and veggie chips dunked into horseradish hummus

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Homemade curried carrot soup, chobani flip with apples and granola, homemade bread

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Slow roasted salmon with kale chips

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Now I have less time to cook but I also actually get paid to work 8 hours a day so it’s an excellent trade off!

I know I’ve been slacking on the blog front but I’ve had some fun times and good pics so I’m going to try to actually get some posts going!

things I’ve learned about cars

Heyyyyy I bought a car today!

Did I want to experience this milestone right now? Not especially! But, I learned some things in the process so here is some wisdom.

Note that about 90% of this wisdom was gleaned from my dad, who saved my a$$ by coming down to NC for the weekend to help me buy a new car one week into my new job. My dad is a born Car Guy and gave me so much invaluable information on the science of what makes a good car, different brands I hadn’t initially thought of, what is and isn’t worth paying for, etc. etc. I seriously don’t know what I would have done without him. The only thing I knew going in is that I wanted a car that was safe, reliable, and fuel-efficient. Now I have all this extra knowledge from him!

 

On hybrids

Pre car-totaling accident, it’d always been in the back of my (crunchy!) mind that I wanted my next car to be a hybrid. I just didn’t expect “next car” to come so soon. However, my new job (I’ll blog about it soon!) involves home visits with patients. Lots of small trips around town. Yes, I’ll be reimbursed for mileage but I still want something fuel efficient that isn’t going to wreak havoc on the planet doing lots of inefficient, lots of braking, short little tips.

Here was how I looked at hybrids, as a category.

Pros:

  • I mean duh they’re more fuel efficient. Mine averages 42 mpg.
  • I mean duh they’re lower in emissions.
  • Now is a good time to buy them, price-wise, because gas prices are relatively cheap and hybrids are relatively low in demand. Whenever gas prices zoom back up, there’s going to be more demand-> higher prices for hybrids

Cons:

  • They’re more expensive. MSRP on a 2017 Toyota Camry starts at $23K; on a 2017 Camry Hybrid it’s $27.7K.
  • You’re limited to certain brands (for example, I LOVED driving various Mazdas but Mazda doesn’t currently make a hybrid. Ditto Subaru)
  • They have considerably less trunk space (hybrid battery’s gotta go somewhere!)
  • They usually have a decent warranty on the battery (in most states, ~10 years; more if you’re in California where they actually encourage people to care about the environment), but once the warranty on the hybrid system is up a new battery is at LEAST $3K

I went into the car buying process planning to look only at Toyotas and Hondas. Here were some things I realized:

  • If I wanted something comparable in size to my old car (a Toyota Camry), I’d need to get the Camry Hybrid or the Honda Accord Hybrid. Both were wayyyy out of my price range to buy new. Accord Hybrids had suuuuuuper limited inventory locally. There were more Camry Hybrids but they were still super expensive even used (I looked at 2015 and newer; more on that thought process below).
  • I initially was like, “Oh, I want a hybrid car, I’ll get a Prius! Duh!” However:
    • The 2016 Prius redesign is UUUUUUUUUUUUGGGLYYYYYYYYY! I ruled it out pretty quickly for aesthetics and $$$
    • I test drove a 2015 Prius and was annoyed that the features were not updated compared to the regular, non-hybrid Toyotas. My rental car I’ve been driving has backup lines on the backup camera, which I’ve grown quite fond of, but the 2015 Prius still had the old school camera without the backup lines; and with poorer video quality that honestly looked like some fuzzy night vision video of Seal Team 6.
    • I also hated the rear view of the Prius- when you looked in your rear view mirror the hatchback made it so there was a line across the window and made it, IMO, more difficult to see what was behind you.
    • I test drove a Prius C, which is sort of the econo-Prius. A bit smaller, obvi, in both the body and (especially) in the engine. I liked the back windshield better (no stripe in your rear view mirror!) However, Consumer Reports hated it and though I didn’t agree with everything CR said, they were pretty spot on with the flaws of the Prius C. It was LOUD (and no wonder, the little teeny engine had to work hard!) and it felt pretty cramped. Having comfort for my passengers was important to me in a car.
    • In general, I thought the Prius wasn’t a real responsive car- you really had to gun it when going from being stopped (like at a red light) to even a low speed like 35 mph. My dad said disparaging things about CVT transmissions and this may have contributed to this problem.

So, did I rule out a hybrid? NO! I did end up getting a hybrid! My dad arrived and encouraged me to think outside of the Toyota/Honda box. What happened next:

  • First he recommended that I check out the Kia Optima hybrid. That was only a brief consideration since Consumer Reports said it couldn’t be counted on to be reliable, and reliability was my #1 concern
  • Then he recommended investigating the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. My dad knew the Sonata- he’d recently helped my stepmother’s friend buy a car and had been really impressed with the non-Hybrid Sonata.
  • First I test drove a 2015 Sonata. The most geographically convenient dealer to test drive that one only had a Limited model (<- more bells and whistles: moonroof, heated leather seats, etc.) The verdict on that was that I liked some things about it but I hated all the bells and whistles (moonroof= less headspace in the car, leather seats= are you kidding it is 90 degrees out, etc.) I also felt a bit crammed in it. However, it didn’t have the tedious acceleration of the Prius, and handled pretty well.
  • At this point, I was torn between one non-hybrid choice and the Sonata Hybrid. While I took a walk to recover from a day of visiting MANY car dealerships, my dad prepared one of the most gorgeous spreadsheets I’ve ever seen, analyzing the 2015 and 2016 Sonata hybrids and comparing them to my (to be discussed) top non-hybrid choice, the Mazda 6.
    • Hyundai made a biggggg leap in the 2016 model in terms of size. It had a difference of literally quarter inches in terms of length and width compared with the Mazda. It actually had a not-insignificant extra six cubic feet of head room in its cabin compared to the Mazda.
    • Fuel economy went up by 10% to 44 mpg highway/40 mpg city, making it even more appealing.
    • It had a “stiffer platform” (<- this phrase means more to my dad, hahahaha. But it handled nice!)
    • Best of all, there was a 2016 model with a pristine Carfax history, a mere 6,000 miles, and an awesome price in Greensboro (about an hour drive away). It was a basic model (no moon roof or leather nonsense).

So, we drove to Greensboro today and test drove it. My dad ended up spontaneously switching with me and driving for a minute (he really enjoyed the “sports mode” it does and enjoyed cranking up the gas!) It met all my needs and the price was right. So!

Yours truly is now the owner of a 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid!

 

Tools I used in my car search

  • I used the USAA car buying service. First of all, it has some fun features (like you can put in what kind of car body you want, what your budget is, how many miles per gallon you want, etc., and it’ll match you up with a car). You can go in and do a search for both new and used cars and it’ll show you what inventory is in your area. You also get a price guarantee- if you say you’re interested in a car at one of their approved dealers (there were at least three options for every single car model I looked it! Lots of dealers!) then the dealer will automatically email you a price guarantee sheet so the dealer can’t try to squeeze in any hidden fees when you’re paying. Also, if you use the USAA car buying service, you can get a reduced APR on a USAA car loan. For me, I could’ve gotten a 3.49% APR loan from USAA for any car, but since I used the car buying service my APR was 2.99%.
  • Obviously, not everyone can join USAA. I spoke to a money guy and he mentioned that he also recommended the Costco car buying service to his clients. So that’s another option!
  • I joined Consumer Reports to review their road tests/safety info/etc. It’s $6.99 a month. To me, it was a no brainer. I found it really helpful.

How old a car should you buy?

This is 100% my dad’s recommendation: he said get a car that is about two years old. At that point, it will have done some major depreciation (he said there’s a 10% hit just from driving a car off a new car lot), but it’s still under manufacturer warranty for at least another year or two.

That being said, my dad also said, and I quote, “But if you want to buy a brand spanking new car, you have my blessing too. Everyone should be able to enjoy that newcar smell at least once in their lives. :-)”

A final dad tip: be wary of buying a used car after a hurricane, because badly damaged cars can trickle from other states where the natural disaster took place. Also, use the Carfax when buying used and be wary if a car has traveled through many many states, as it can be used to hide something being a salvage title (something that’s had scary flood damage, etc.) My car had only ever been in NC!

What features are good? What features are lame?

  • Things I cared about: keyless entry, backup camera, cruise control, adjustable steering wheel. Obviously things like antilock brakes, power windows, but those things are pretty ubiquitous now.
  • Things I didn’t care about: fancy stereo, built in navigation or fancy bluetooth (I just use Siri), fancy trimming, active lane control. I did end up with dual climate control and while I didn’t need it it was nice! I wouldn’t mind cloth heated seats (like my mom has in her Subaru) because not only are they great in the winter but the heat on your lower back is great for menstrual cramps. But oh well. I’ll just use heating pads outside the car πŸ˜‰
  • Things I actively avoided: leather seats, moonroofs (hahaha can you tell I have strong feelings about these two things?!)

Big car or small car?

  • My dad made a decent case for getting a bigger car: “You may only need a small car now, but you’re probably going to keep this vehicle at least five years. I’d suggest a mid-size because it’s more comfortable, roomier when you need to carry five passengers in a pinch, slightly safer (more mass = more protection, per laws of physics) and the price difference is small, especially if you buy used. Remember the mid-sized car will also bring more at the other end when you finally sell it. And there’s little difference in fuel economy.”
  • That being said, for me, big= a sedan, not a crossover or SUV or anything.
  • Having my dad, who is over six feet tall, with me when car shopping was great, because just seeing him sitting next to me gave me an idea of what passenger comfort would be like.

What brands are good? What brands are lame?

  • Brands I was open to considering (I didn’t test drive all of these brands because I had essentially a weekend, plus a few evenings after work when I did some preliminary research, but I have friends and family who love all of these brands): Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru.
    • If I hadn’t bought the hybrid, I would’ve bought a Mazda 6. I also really liked the Mazda 3 (and found the driver’s seat to be SO comfortable- it was like being wrapped in a cozy hug as I drove around!) but wanted a larger car, as noted above. The 6 had the same appeal as the 3, which was that Mazdas are SO pleasant to drive. They just are really responsive to what the driver is doing and handle really well. They also don’t have the stupid CRT transmission. And, like most Japanese models, the fuel efficiency is great for a non hybrid.
    • Ultimately, what sold me over was that all things being equal, I’d prefer a hybrid. Also, the most appealing local option (in terms of mileage/affordability) was for sale on Carvana. Carvana is a USAA-approved dealer, so I guess they can’t be that sketchy. And my dad ran the Carfax for this particular car and figured out it was a repossession, so it wasn’t on the market because there was a sketchy accident in its history; it was just financial mismanagement. But, Carvana made me a little nervous (I’d have to wait for the car to be delivered to me, and then if there were any issues with it I would’ve had a week long delay in my car search for no good reason), and ultimately I wanted the hybrid. Also, a repo just seems like bad karma (Carma? πŸ˜‰ )
  • Brands I didn’t (please enjoy some more classic dad quotes, in quotation marks):
    • “American cars: The Ford Focus is popular and pretty good. In general, US cars are cheaper than ‘Japanese’ (even Japanese made in the US). I don’t think GM has anything very interesting. Ditto Chrysler. Don’t buy a new US car though, because they depreciate so fast, but they can be really good buys used, especially when owned by little old ladies. (Remember, I bought my 2002 Dodge Intrepid, with less than 90,000 miles, for $2,000 — and I love it. Problems so far: had to replace support struts for hood and trunk lids, plus check engine light goes off every once in a while for no reason. Otherwise, flawless.)”
    • “Mitsubishi: No. Nothing wrong with their cars, but brand almost dead in the US — they’ll be gone soon.”

Car insurance

So if you use any of this information to buy a car, I am thrilled for you. Now a few rather intense reminders about how to ensure you are taken care of insurance-wise:

  • Get collision insurance! I didn’t get it because I didn’t think it was cost-effective. But, number one, I didn’t have any coverage for the accident I was just in, so I was dependent on the other driver’s insurance company to take care of me. Even though I was found entirely not at fault (hurray!) there’s still a wait on the $ from the other insurance company. I literally did not hear a word from them until the police report from the accident was posted, and that took a week. But, more importantly about collision insurance, I got a policy for the car I was driving (a 15 year old car with 170,000 miles on it) but then I was renting a car that obviously I wanted covered in case there was an accident. However, USAA did not let me add collision to my policy until I had a new car. Therefore, I had to pay for the “loss damage waiver” for the rental car, which was a ridiculous $30 a day (the car itself was only $12 a day with the USAA discount). While I’m confident that I’ll get reimbursed for the car rental in the settlement from the other guy’s liability insurance, my insurance warned me that the other guy’s insurance wouldn’t pay for the loss damage waiver.
  • It’s not a bad idea to get medical coverage through your car insurance. I sort of had forgotten I had, and then they called me after this accident! While obviously the other guy’s liability insurance will pay me back for medical expenses I’ve incurred thus far, at a certain point (likely very soon) they’re going to want to settle this and have me sign a paper that says I’m not allowed to ask them for money ever again. On the other hand, USAA will continue to be my insurance provider and they said they have a three year statute of limitations, so if something develops later after the accident (like the crappy headache situations some of my friends have had, alas) it can still be covered. I mean, thank God, I have good health insurance and this is something I have to worry about less than some, but still, if I end up needing physical therapy or something that can add up to a LOT out of pocket.

Okay I hope you all have enjoyed this car wisdom! Now that I have learned all this stuff about cars, I am going to try hard to forget it, and let my brain space be taken up by more interesting things!