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:

american wife

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!

whole foods popups

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!

family and easter

We’ll call this post a celebration of my family. In part because my family contributed so many of the pictures!

My mom took this picture. I am honored that she thinks of me when she sees delicious risotto.

1 spring risotto

Isn’t it exquisite?! It’s from Mintwood Place in DC. I want to eat it right now- I really think fresh peas might be some of my favorite things in the whole world.

This next picture was captured when I had already gotten home for Easter, but was upstairs sleeping my face off (I arrived Thursday evening and slept for TWELVE HOURS. School is wiping me out!)

There’s a handsome feral cat living in our neighborhood, and Sheila has a crush on him. (She often hates other cats, but seems intrigued by him. Sometimes they touch noses. He pursues her much more than she pursues him. She’s a coy little thing).

boyfriend

Since I did so much sleeping I tried really hard to contribute to the family’s well being in some way. It’s kind of crazy though- I totally regress when I’m at home being cared for by my mommy! Slack on the dishes and so on. This particular Saturday morning my mom arose at 5 am and volunteered at a soup kitchen (a monthly commitment). And I… slept some more.

Anyway, I made everyone pancakes (from Trader Joe’s exquisite pumpkin pancake mix). Malindi cleverly topped hers with cream cheese, syrup, and pecans for a sort of frosting effect.

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And then Easter happened! Didn’t take a lot of pictures, and it was sort of… a bizarre experience. The choir director at our church (BETTY I KNOW YOU READ THIS SO YOU CAN PASS THIS ON TO JOHN) is literally the BEST HUMAN BEING I KNOW. He’s a lovable statistician who can make a mean math pun. Gets to work on a long trip on public transportation (so he’s kind to the planet too). He wears a cute little fisherman’s hat in the summer to protect his skin from the sun. He has a soft voice and a smiling face that babies all love. In his spare time he volunteers in hospice and at a food distribution center for the poor. And directs the choir for which he gets no pay and a LOT OF MALARKY from the priests.

This particular year they changed both the Good Friday and midnight Easter services with a whopping half hour’s notice. I don’t understand it… does Easter sneak up? Do the priests go, “Huh, I’m not sure if there’s Easter this year” like it’s the equivalent of February 29th? Baffling.

The service was okay, is the point, but I thought some somewhat unChristian thoughts about some of the nonsense that went down.

What followed was  a spotty night’s sleep. This is in part because the choir had music taken away which was replaced with funereal droning in Arabic- which extended the service by a solid hour. So I didn’t get to bed til 3 am, then woke up at 6 for awhile with the sun, then was up for good at 9. Lame.

My Easter basket helped though! We actually had three Easter bunnies in my family (though while my basket was more well rounded, I got my mom and my sister exclusively chocolate products, hahaha. The Easter Bunny actually hooked me up with some cash this year which was extremely, extremely kind of the Easter Bunny).

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Another of the Easter bunnies was clever and sneaky and left Easter merriment hidden in various parts of the house.

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My mom, of course, made her delicious baklava. The smell of it baking (along with the smell of lamb baking, but we didn’t host Easter this year so I didn’t get my fix of that) is really what makes the holiday feel real to me.

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Secrets to the best baklava:

1. Add some almonds to the walnuts for a less bitter flavor
2. Use clarified butter for a cleaner flavor
3. Bake the baklava at a moderate, not too high heat, and cover for the later part of the baking time to prevent overcooking
4. Only use half the syrup so it’s moist but not soggy

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Easter was hosted at my sister’s godparents and it was so lovely! It was a beautiful, beautiful, PERFECT day (in the high 60s, sunny) and everyone was in good spirits. The hosts invited the priest’s family from their church, who only stated for a bit. Even more fun, they also had the lovely family who help tend the grounds who stayed for quite awhile and were SO MUCH FUN! Their kids were so cute, smart, and fun to be around. The seven year old put up with some intense teasing about girlfriends from my sister’s godfather :D

And of course it helped that we had a REAL LIVE EASTER BUNNY! My cousin Nicholas has a pet rabbit, Thumper, who is just the coolest, chillest bunny ever. Nicholas has worked with kids a lot, so Thumper has been exposed to their noise/sudden movements/etc. and he was just so nonchalant as they chased him around and petted him and picked him up (though the kids were also well behaved and gentle with him). He was happy to just bop around and look for clover. And he’s so sooooooft!

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Pictured above is my mom’s best friend from high school, Suzanne, who was another fun addition to the party. She lives in Perth, Australia but comes visit for a few weeks every year to see her parents. When her parents fuss over her in excess (as she puts it, “They fret!”) she escapes to my mom’s house. And gosh the two of them crack me up- they lounge around in their pajamas drinking (in moderation: disclaimer, my mom is a lightweight so when I say drinking I mean 1 drink) and giggling, basically. I hope to be like that with my best friend from high school in the next few decades!

I was sad to return to school this year. Let’s be real, who wants to leave being cared for and constantly fed in the bosom of their family to instead have to do a billion assignments and group projects and tests in a frighteningly short period of time?

Fortunately, I have many things comforting me. To begin with, NEW LIFE IS BEGINNING ON MY PORCH!

My roommate and I have had a comically dead plant hanging on our deck for quite some time. Alli went to dump out the planter’s contents to replace them with something less dead, but shocker! Five little eggs!

This mama is super dedicated to her kiddos. We think she is either a Carolina wren or a Southern phoebe… so we named her Phoebe! I can’t wait for the eggies to hatch!

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We are trying very hard not to stress her out, or spend too much time out there. Apparently if mama bird feels like the nest is threatened, she will station herself there and literally starve herself to death rather to leave and get food and worry that the eggs/baby chicks won’t survive. I am so glad I’m not a bird, guys.

I’m glad she’s under the eaves and protected from the rain, but I still worry because the wind makes that thing wave around like crazy!

In other important baby bird news, longtime readers will remember that my aunt has neighbors we call Chicken Family. She was chicken sitting and rotating eggs each day under the incubator and look who was born early!

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Being the first person this chick saw (and assumed mama) she got to name him/her (can’t tell yet- too small!). Behold, Henry (or Henrietta if a girl!) He eats crumbled hardboiled egg yolk (which I thought was cannibalism but apparently both yolk and white are food for little chicken embryo while they grow in the shell)

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Henry is a Bantam. Her Ancona brothers and sisters are much bigger, but my aunt notes, “she is fierce like a Scottie” (the kind of little but fierce dog my aunt has!)

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And finally, I must brag about my baby sister. She got one of the coveted internships at Share Our Strength (something for which, I must admit, I was interviewed but not accepted). She’s helping coordinate their Great American Bake Sale.

Isn’t she so adorable?!

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She had a busy weekend in which she celebrated Easter with us on Sunday and then starting in the wee hours of Monday, the Share Our Strength summit and their big fundraiser- Taste of the Nation. (and then went on to take a biochem test and organic chemistry quiz in the next couple of days, like a champ!)

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She sent me delectable pictures

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Yay family!

mood swings

I went through a fairly exhausting couple of weeks prior to going home for Greek Easter. Fun times, and crazy stressful times.

It started when I had my psycho-crazy reaction to Zyrtec. The culminating event was when I went out to eat with one of my bestest pals and didn’t want to eat anything! (On the bright side, she said she had raging PMS and wasn’t feeling much food either).

We both got gorgeous salads… and ate almost none of them! (Took about 5/6ths of each of them home. Our waiter probably thought we were lunatics).

Hers:

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Mine:

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(Arugula, hearts of palm, avocado, parmesan, GREAT vinaigrette).

It was just a crappy few days. During this meal, I recall, along with the depression/anxiety/lunacy I’d been feeling for a few days prior, I also had a raging headache and nausea that caused me to go dry heave in the bathroom for a bit. Then I went home and went to bed at 9 pm. Then I said I was NEVER TAKING ZYRTEC AGAIN.

Fortunately I rallied by a few days later. I had American Good Friday off. I spent a delightful morning at my new favorite place (I confess this picture was taken when I was there a few weeks prior but it was too good not to post).

cat on my back!

I went with my friend from school, who doesn’t have a car. I feel like it’s important for the car owners to take the eco-friendly public transit only folks on adventures in the surrounding countryside! It was a beautiful day and the kitties were pleased.

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Can you even with this cat?! Such confidence in the strength of those branches! (Though, of course, if he fell, being a cat he would land on his feet)

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Then I had a retirement party to attend, woohoo! Heh. So my friend spent several years in a high pressure economist job (like, work on Christmas Day and every weekend stressful) and accumulated enough savings that he decided that not only could he quit his job, but he could chill for awhile without having to immediately find a new job.

Thus, a retirement party.

We were encouraged to wear golfer attire. This was my first attempt, but I decided I just looked like a clown.

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So I wore a cute shirtdress, a visor I got at the dollar store, and tall socks and sneakers, and called it a day. The party was lots of fun- there were really disgusting prune juice cocktails (hahahaha), and we played bingo. The highlight was just sitting on Myra and Alex’s wonderful screened in porch and hearing music drift over from a concert being held nearby.

And then, yet again, I was in biochem study mode for the remainder of the weekend.

I had my usual study group over both Saturday and Sunday. We had an AWESOME breakfast on Saturday because my friend Steph brought eggs from her happy chickens. She hardboiled those, I roasted some asparagus and opened my fancy balsamic reduction, and we had a reallll good breakfast.

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Saturday night I took a break and had a welcome-to-town dinner for my cousin and her husband, who just moved to Chapel Hill (yay!). I introduced them to Myra and Alex, because they are all 1. Lawyers and 2. Obsessed with their dogs.

Despite Lochsie’s cuteness (demonstrated below)…

lochsie the troublemaker

… Lochsie’s manners leave something to be desired and she was rather unwelcoming to poor Mike and Sophia’s dog (who, incidentally, was about four times her size). So Lochsie went off to doggy jail and we had a fun dinner.

Then I went to American Easter with my beloved Andrea and her family, and that was wonderful. But my anxiety about biochem grew throughout our delightful brunch, and I reluctantly said goodbye to the mimosas and lox and went back to biochem.

This round of studying, we had collaborative snacks. I contributed leftover bruschetta (which Sophia brought the night before and was BOSS), roasted almonds, curried red lentil dip with crackers and carrots for dipping, and (in the tupperware with the lid on) leftover strawberry shortcake).

But lest you fear that there was a single cake for dessert (and please note that on this day I’d already had strawberry shortcake for breakfast and amaretto pound cake at Easter lunch), Steph also brought her Easter leftovers: peanut butter M and M eggs (diabolical) and carrot cake. The carrot cake began as an Easter basket cake, but since most of the cake was gone, what was left looked like headphones!

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Once biochem was done (did a lot better than the horror of the carbs test, thank God) I rewarded myself with sushi. Bento box: $12 and you eat it for three meals. Did my usual: four sushi pieces, a small spicy tuna roll, and teriyaki salmon. Comes with salad, miso soup, and rice.

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Leftovers went into a pretty perfect meal: leftover perfectly cooked sushi restaurant rice topped with fried eggs, with roasted asparagus and avocado on the side. Like, all of my favorite things.

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I also made a Madhur Jaffrey vegetarian favorite: chickpeas with tomatoes and parsley. My grandmother always made lentils on Good Friday, so I was pleased to be making an equally comforting vegan bean dish during Holy Week. Ostensibly I should have been eating vegan all the way through Lent, but I find it excessively challenging/restrictive and already tend to feel that I’m not getting enough calcium. I do cut out meat all through Lent (part of the rationale for this, by the way, is that meat is expensive and spending less money on it enables one to donate more money to good causes, or caring for the poor.) Anyway, at least in this meal I felt like I was being legit on the Lent front.

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It’s very simple. I didn’t follow a recipe (though you can find it in her excellent vegetarian cookbook). I just threw olive oil (a good amount) and garlic (also a good amount!) in a pan, added tomatoes (fresh are good, canned work great too, in this case I used canned tomato sauce for a smoother texture), then the chickpeas, then LOTS of parsley. Key was using chickpeas cooked from dry instead of using canned. They are just SO much more delicious, and their texture is delightful.

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And then, in a final treat yo self moment, I went to the gynecologist and rewarded myself with froyo :)

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around town

Here is a random sampling of my doings/eatings/learnings of late.

Perfect homemade meal:

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Leftover Ethiopian cabbage and carrots (I made for a dinner with friends) plus over easy fried egg, polenta, and sour cream. We had a family friend who was Romanian. He introduced us to the exquisite combination of polenta, eggs, and sour cream (which I guess is traditionally Romanian, because I’ve seen it at church festivals as well). I forget how much I lovvvvve sour cream. I bought it to make Moosewood’s Russian macaroni and cheese and was delighted to have some of the leftovers in the house.

Perfect school meal:

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I buy food on campus WAY TOO MUCH. This is from Mediterranean deli: pita and two dips (baba ghanoush and deliiiiicious artichoke dip) plus couscous/chickpea/raisin/green onion salad. $5 and delicious.

My Epidemiology TA is the best TA. Everyone is jealous of us because we don’t waste class time reviewing material that’s already been taught (thus enabling us to often get out early) and we get to have class outside sometimes. I’m now dying of allergies- this was in the sweet spot of early Spring when it was warm out but the trees hadn’t gone berserk yet.

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The grand reopening of Honeysuckle Tea House! I LOVE this place! Here’s where they have the fab live music:

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And this is the open air teahouse itself. It’s like Swiss Family Robinson or something!

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They have a garden where they grow herbs that are used to make herbal teas and home and body products they sell in their shop. (Washing your hands at the teahouse is amazing because you use their soap- it smells SO GOOD!)

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If you look at the building from this angle, you can see that it’s built from recycled shipping containers.

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I am mostly not fond of chamomile, but isn’t it pretty?

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The tea house from another angle. It makes you think, “Yeah, I could build that!”

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And looking up at the building as the sun sets. *Sigh*. So pretty. Though it seems to be in the country, it’s actually only a few minutes out from Chapel Hill. It feels so much further away!

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This is the inside. I met up with friends and we sat in here, sipped tea, and listened to music.

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When you order instead of giving you a number they give you a plant. This was mine:IMG_2282 IMG_2283

There was a sassy bluegrass band. Also note, please, the perfect little daffodils on each table!

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There were ots of kids bopping around outside (there’s a little play area behind the stage). There was this neat little firepit, which was nice to have once the sun set.

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In less fun and relaxing news, I’ve reached the point in the year where my planner isn’t doing it anymore and I need to make epic to-do lists in increments of a couple of days. These are not all school assignments (thank God!) but I seriously need to put, “Exercise”, “Go to brunch with your friends” or I would forget to do them.

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I went on a fun medical nutrition therapy study date (no really, though that is a ridiculous sentence). Melissa’s house feels like a magical land in the woods. It is so, so gorgeous.

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And she feeds you when you’re her study date! Brain boosting chocolate…

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… and this epic crockpot creation! When I arrived she was sauteeing a ton of onions with a ton of Indian-style spices (cumin, coriander, and friends). In they went to a crockpot with chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, coconut milk… etc. etc. Don’t know the full details but know it was delish! Especially with the chopped almonds she added on top.

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We made some epic study guides about livers, gall bladders, intestines, and all of the fun bad things that can happen to them. Eesh. This program makes me deeply grateful for my health.

A bit more randomness:

The entire town has subsequently burst into blossom. I stopped at a traffic light and had to capture these lovely blossoms… outside the Bojangles, hahaha.

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I took a long walk (on pretty much the last day I could handle being outside without sneezing my nose off) and came upon this chicken with a death wish bopping around in the street. I chased her back into her yard. I”m not sure if she stayed there.

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thawing

It’s funny how we set emotional timelines for ourselves, and say, well of COURSE I’ll be there by then. And yes, sometimes it feels like a real victory when we meet those deadlines, and we are there, and we say, I’ve gotten out of that negative place, and now I’ll take on the world and be that perfect person I’ve been intending to be all along. The problem, of course, is when we backslide. Or rather we slide down off the exuberant pile of intentions we’ve built ourselves and say, “Oh shoot, I’m actually still kind of sad about x, y and z.” Our feelings about ourselves change, our feelings about others change, our health changes, the seasons change. We hope that we can learn things.

Anyway, that was all a bit psychobabble. The point is, I feel very much like a work in progress at the moment (and no kidding, I always have been and I always will be). The week I took the pictures in this post I was filled with a sense of real contentment and well being, and the week that I’m blogging about them I’m a little fuzzier about how I’m feeling about life. But hey, that’s okay. The feeling of well being was a blessing, and my feeling now is more self-examining, and I want to be able to dig into that feeling too, and get something out of it.

It’s Spring, and thank heavens for spring. The cold thaws, the nights get lighter, we’re greeted by daffodils and baby bunnies, and we hope that the day to day grind of life gets a little easier. It’s okay for me to bounce around town feeling rosy and optimistic, and yet it’s also okay for me to spend a quiet few minutes watching the sun set, listening to the birdies tell each other good night, and do some reflecting (even of the melancholy sort).

The later part of Spring Break left me feeling springtime optimism and my positivity was bubbling over. This led to a desire to cook and entertain a lot! I invited friends over for Indian food- actually sent out an open invite on facebook to anyone who was in town who felt like eating something I cooked. I made tofu tikka masala, sauteed cabbage and potatoes and carrots with spices (actually an Ethiopian recipe), and basmati rice. And then Myra totally stole my thunder by bringing this beautiful and delicious chickpea bisteeyah.

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Two of my friends were initially excited for the Indian dinner but then opted out when they learned when it would be served at 7:30 pm, a mere half hour before their baby’s bedtime. Determined to see them, and excited to continue feeding all the people I care about, I invited them over for a more child-friendly mealtime (6:00) the next day. That was delightful, because baby Toula is walking like a CHAMP! And she’s just the happiest little bambino, and super chatty.

I decided to make a recipe that my cousin Rachel taught me about: Moosewood’s Russian macaroni and cheese. Its defining features are a TON of sauteed onions (both red and green), caraway seeds, and cottage cheese in addition to the traditional cheddar. It’s really pretty healthy- look at all the vegetables crammed in there!

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My whole family loves this recipe- it’s comfort food with a fun twist. I think this time it wasn’t quite as good as when I’ve made it in the past, probably because I was too committed to health. Low fat cottage cheese is fine (though never buy fat free cottage cheese, please, it tastes like acid and death) but then also using low fat sour cream and reduced fat cheddar just was too virtuous. Next time I’ll rock a little more saturated fat!

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Also at the table was a yummy dip that unfortunately ended up a little barf-colored. I cooked red lentils with whole garlic cloves, olive oil, and salt; then mashed it up with cumin and turmeric. It was good, despite its appearances. The baby loved it! Dan and Bethany were also nice enough to bring bread and smoked salmon. Man, their baby housed that bread. She’s a big fan of the white carbs. Aren’t we all, hahahahaha.

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Okay now by FAR the highlight of my spring break happened on the last day of it. Myra and I headed off on an adventure to… CAT HEAVEN!

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Goathouse Cat Refuge was frankly a little overwhelming. In that it was amazing, and also caused me to lie in bed at night going, “THERE ARE SO MANY SWEET LITTLE KITTIES WITH NO MUMMIES AND DADDIES TO CARE FOR THEM WHAT CAN I DO, OH GODDDDD”.

A totally donation sustained organization, at any given moment there are 350 (!!!) cats at this amazing place. And visitors are allowed from 12-3 every day of the week, and though most of the cats are up for adoption, you can also go if (like me) you aren’t yet ready or able to offer a cat a home but just want to help socialize the animals.

There are a lotttt of cats, but it helps that they have free access to the outdoors (which is pretty amazing, and seems to keep the cats really happy and chill) and are also on multiple levels in the rooms inside, so you never feel overwhelmed by the number of cats (though straight talk: what is overwhelming is the smell).

Some of the kitties are in cages, if for example they’re new and getting used to the other cats, or recovering from medical treatment, or on a special diet. But most get to just wander around. There are, natch, lots of sleeping surfaces.

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This guy, below, was happy to see me. After I took this picture, he calmly decided to climb down from the shelf via my neck. Myra took a series of photos of me keeping the cat balanced on my back and bending down to the ground so he could peacefully disembark. Cats, man. We’re just here to serve them.

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Cat bunk beds! This room (with the series of shelves you see below) had approximately 28 cats in it (Myra counted) but it just never seemed that crowded. They seemed really happy and chill.

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But I thought the really amazing part was the outdoor area. It was a warmish day- low 60s- and both cats and humans were stoked to be spending some time outside.

Lots of things to climb on.

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Lots of things to climb in! I think a human child would enjoy this kind of space just as much as a cat.

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This guy was a boss climber. The roof he’s climbing off of was the quarantine building for new kitties or sick kitties. There is also a kitten cabana (!) There were only a few kittens the day we were there but the staff said the kittens really started coming in in April and May.

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I loved this lady. She was the most confident, friendly cat. And had the most GORGEOUS fluffy tail.

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There was some playtime as well outside, hahaha.

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This kitty had the most beautiful green eyes and just wanted you to pettt himm. On the one hand, you felt like these animals had a wonderful, cat-friendly space and had all of their needs met and seemed really content. On the other hand, some of them clearly just wanted a forever family where they could be loved and cared for by one person :,(

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Outdoors, basically everything was a scratching surface. A lot of the trees looked a little ragged at the bottom!

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How amazing is this climbing structure?! I want one!

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I loved this chubster. He was very affable.

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The white cat was like I HAVE MANY IMPORTANT TASKS TO ACCOMPLISH TODAY I MUST BE OFF.

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This cat was super sweet and kind of had a face like a little fancy purebred cat. There’s something about this vantage point looking into things from above that cats just seem to love.

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Nuzzle nuzle.

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Kitty buddies looking contemplative together.

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The cat was nibbling on the pinecones and then when I went over to take a picture he looked a little embarrassed.

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There are some kitties who have just always been feral. They stay on the outskirts of the outdoor area (which is large, so they definitely can get the solitude they desire, while having their needs for food and water and veterinary care and so on met). They were having a big sunbathing party.

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We petted SO MANY CATS. Seriously, if you have blood pressure concerns, go to this place and do some quality cat petting.

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More scratching.

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Can you even with this little guy’s belly camouflage? So cute!

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Don’t you love when cats stare intently at something like they’re trying to solve an important mystery and then peacefully close their eyes, like “Ah, I see it now. All is well.”?

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This little guy LOVED me! (In general, what’s with cats and toes? What weirdos). At one point he put his paws up on his knees and I started to bend down and it was like he was trying to climb into my arms sob sob sob. Then another kitty came over to say hello and this guy hissed at him, like, “DO NOT RUIN THIS FOR ME BRO”. This is what haunts me when I lie in bed at night, man- little baby kitties with no families.

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(Also, apparently from those billions of goosebumps on my legs, it was really too cold that day to be wearing shorts, eh?)

Emotionally drained but happy after our visit, Myra and I then went to one of Pittsboro’s other lovely offerings, the bakery. These cupcakes were adorable but I guess you have to special order them because they were only plastic models. Sigh.

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Nonetheless, they had a yummy selection, including slightly less adorable regular cupcakes.

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Myra and I both opted for the donuts, which were SO good. Light and yeasty and sweetly frosted. I got one with homemade lemon curd inside and it was SO good- tangy, like I like it!

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Then I went home and my neighbor brought over ridiculously delicious spring rolls made with love by her Thai mother. And I hung out with my girlfriends and we giggled about life.

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Spring Break was done and I felt like the flowers I saw around me, like I was thawing. I felt an overabundance of blessings in my life, despite some of the pain it contains too.

I am blessed, to have a family that contains so much love- my life was so enriched by my cousin’s presence and the years I got to overlap with him.

I made many steps in becoming the person I am in my now-finished relationship. As my roommate wisely pointed out tonight, when you make the decision to love someone, you choose to make them part of your life story, however long your time with them overlaps. They’re always written into your story, and you are the person you are in part because of them.

I chatted with a pro today (I was feeling a little freaked out after my insane- literally, insane- allergy medicine reaction last week) and she mentioned how she could see me benefiting from incorporating more mindfulness into my life. I told her about my resistance to the idea of making my mind completely blank. She said, why not just go for a walk, and for its first ten minutes, turn off everything else in your brain and choose to focus on what’s around you. The breeze, the chipmunks, and so on.

I took these pictures on some of my walks home from class the other week. Daffodils on every lawn, popping up seemingly overnight.

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I despaired during my first spring in North Carolina- where are the crocuses?! I thought we were in the wrong climactic zone. Imagine my deep, deep joy when I saw these guys peeking up out of the dirt. Hello, spring. Hello, renewal. Hello, hope. Hello, change.

Bless you, dear little crocuses!

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biochemlandia

When I have a biochem test it is NO JOKE.

Thank God, we had a snow day just a few days before my last biochem test, which meant that we had a solid day to just devote to biochem. Since I am a benevolent person who wanted to host my classmates whose homes had no power, and since I am a slacker who has to have supervision to avoid watching Netflix all day, I invited over some study buddies!

I am a great hostess who makes her study buddies pancakes. (And I am a food addict who goes to buy buckwheat pancake mix when there is an impending snowstorm). I had mine with peanut butter and honey, and informed my friends it was BYOS (bring your own syrup).

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And then there was lots of studying and lots of snacking. Dude, these kale chips were WEEEEEEIRD! I’ve actually eaten and loved chocolate kale chips before, because I think commercial kale chips are way more delicious than the homemade ones, probably because they have access to a dehydrator, which I do not. The main barrier I have to buying commercially produced kale chips- $$$!- was not an issue, as these were 75% off at Whole Foods. However, I really should’ve suspected why.

You know how I don’t want kale chips to taste? Creamy. They had this weird, unpleasant creamy residue in your mouth, which is something you really don’t want mixing with kale aftertaste. Anyway, most of us hated them but Camille, that lovable weirdo, liked them, so I sent them home with her, hahahaha.

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Camille brought chocolate and almonds, yesss, so I was happy to share with her. Pictured below is also one of my billion cups of tea I drank and made for others that day.

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And then I came along this delightful Krebs cycle mnemonic, which didn’t actually come in that useful on the diabolical test, but was amusing.

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Now apparently I have a lot of pictures of the things I did to distract myself from studying biochem (on which I still spent probably… an average of four hours a day? during this time period) and to reward myself after biochem was done. After I escaped biochemlandia, if you will.

I have a Nutrition Buddy, a second year student who mentors me in the ins and outs and unwritten rules of our department. We got sushi together! So fun! At the strange little sushi place that opened recently. Their rolls are a little expensive but also HUGE. This one had baked salmon on top, and I forget what else. It was quite tasty.

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That same weekend I had a nice romantic dinner with my lady friends, for which I neglected to photograph the food but for which I captured the ambience nicely :)

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And then a BIG highlight- some friends and I went to see Andrea in an OPERA! Yes, my friend is an awesome, talented opera singer.

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The view:

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The performance was amazing. While the orchestra played the beautiful overture, the people on the stage were frozen in poses, the women wearing these beautiful red dresses. It was like a painting, and sort of eerie and beautiful.

And then, as if I didn’t love Andrea enough already, later in the week she introduced me to her sister’s awesome puppy!

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And then a final delicious meal: I had a leisurely dinner with friends at Venable, a restaurant I”ve been wanting to try for a long time. Their house red wine is $5 and is SO SO SO GOOD. Unfortunately it’s only listed on the menu as “Rosso Veronese”, meaning wine from Verona. I’m on the hunt for it. Working to my advantage is that my friend works at Venable (and was actually our server!) so I’m going to interrogate her about it.

Also, totally out of character for me, I ate pig… But GOSH this croque monsieur was so good. It was local and pastured and all the good things one wants in their ham. And delicous. And the cheese and bechamel were glorious. (The ham was also really thick, which was hard to see in this picture, so I had leftovers). However, perhaps an even bigger highlight was the roasted veggies (carrots, parsnips, and rutabega) on the side. The vegetables were perfectly cooked- I tend to just roast mine with no preparation so they get all wrinkly (though they still taste good) but these had been blanched or something in advance so they were wonderfully tender. And perrrfectly seasoned.

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And finally, a fun, simple, indulgent sandwich I made at home: grilled cheese and avocado. Cooked in coconut oil. Yummmm.

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