Learning · Projects · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Wine & Canvas

Lately, a couple of my friends have been talking a lot about Wine and Canvas, a one night class in which everyone learns to paint something fun while enjoying a yummy drink. You just go to the website, choose your location preference, and then choose a day that has a painting you like and register. (You also pay $35.00, but the canvas and paints are provided.) I really wanted to give it a try, and so I was was super excited I was able to rope my sister into doing a class with me last night!

paintingWe chose to do a painting with sunflowers. Above you can see us getting started on our paintings. I love sunflowers–mostly because they remind me of my mom, but also because they are so pretty and represent summer, my favorite season!

20140423-180409.jpgThough we moved at a super fast pace, the class took a lot longer than we anticipated–a little over 3 hours! We were really surprised at how quickly we moved from step to step, wishing we had more time to work on details, but not wanting to fall behind. Simultaneous with our feelings of being a bit rushed were feelings of being super tired–especially by the time we finished the flowers and were painting our backgrounds. Alcohol + concentrating on painting = drowsy ladies!

20140423-180418.jpgDespite it all, I had a lot of fun. The best part was hanging out with my sister, but I am also happy to have a painting that’s not all that bad for a memory. (Of course, I see a dozen things I would’ve tried to touch up had I had the time, but I still liked the way mine turned out for the most part.)

painting 2Here’s a picture taken by the women who put on the event showing some of the ladies who took part in the class. We are hiding in the very back row on the left!

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy painting with acrylics was, and would like to try more in the future. Do you like using acrylics? Have you ever taken a Wine and Canvas class, or would you?

Learning

The long year is over

 

 

When I think of the last year, I want to listen to The Long Day is Over by Norah Jones, but change the lyrics to “The Long Year is Over.” It’s such a pretty song, and I feel like the melody captures the way it feels after nearly giving up before finding some hope to go on. To be honest, 2013 was probably the hardest year of my life, for a lot of different reasons. I can look back throughout the entire year and remember so many struggles, and yet–I made it through. I know that a New Year is sort of just a symbol, but I am going to embrace it as a force for change and be positive about a much better year ahead. I’m excited to get back into blogging more regularly, and to being creative again. I’m excited for a fresh start and any new changes ahead. And I’ve had a lot of conversations with incredibly supportive people that have encouraged me and helped me believe: everything will be alright.

To celebrate the New Year, I made acorn squash, marinated steak, broccoli and Italian toast for dinner on New Year’s Eve!

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I want to swim in that butter and brown sugar.

Then, Chad and I watched movies until it was time for the ball to drop. Just before, we shared a little cake, and then we got champagne ready for toasting.

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It was a nice, much-needed relaxing night at home (as well as a fresh start!). Tonight I’ll be working on the Unravelling the Year Ahead Workbook, and then I’ll be going to bed early because I’ve got to work in the morning. How did you ring in the new year?

Learning

Empathy

I mentioned I had a good conversation with a friend the other day, and I still can’t get it out of my head. I keep replaying it over and over, because I am amazed my his grace, and by his love. I was able to open up to him, and he didn’t judge me. He loved me. Empathized. And his love for me brought the strangest mix of emotions. I felt weak, but strengthened by him, guilty and desperate, but loved and understood. I felt scared, but relieved. Sad, yet joyful. I felt the need to look for God in my life again, despite skepticism and doubt.

I don’t know if it’s fate, or luck, or karma. Maybe it’s something divine. But I have met three people recently who are amazing and who have really made an impact on my heart. I’ve met so many religious Christians who never practiced what they preached, who were tremendous hypocrites, and who always let me down. And yet these three don’t ever “preach.” They listen and love. And when they love, they love unconditionally, without judgement. They don’t claim to be good, they just are. They don’t put themselves on pedestals, they just hang out and are real with people. They give me hope, and make me want to search for a faith I left behind. To get answers to questions that bother me, instead of being completely dismissive.

Who knows what will happen. I don’t know where I see myself three days from now, so I can hardly guess where this all will lead. What I do know is that true empathy is hard to come by, and I am incredibly grateful to have found several people who seem to get it. As I was thinking about empathy this morning, I happened to come across a tweet with a really great video (more fate/luck/karma?). Hope it resonates with you like it did with me.

Learning

One story, three ways

So I had my second-to-last Spanish lesson yesterday, and though I’ve been struggling with the language since Japanese always pops into my head (and I haven’t been studying very much), I was able to write a short “story,” on the spot in class, without any notes! That was kind of encouraging. I may not be fluent, but I can understand more than I could before! So, without further ado, here is my story in Spanish, Japanese, and then English. (Note: My Spanish is far from perfect, and my Japanese is very much out of practice! Also, I promise this is not going to become a cat blog, even though it might look like it’s headed in that direction! 🙂 )

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Yo vivo en mi casa con mi esposo y dos gatos. Mi gato corren y comen todos las dias. Uno gato llamo es Comet. Uno gato llamo es Curry. Curry es naranja, y Comet es negro y gris.

夫と私は2ねこと私たちの家に住んでいます。私たちのねこが毎日はしたり、食べたりします。さいしょのねこの名前がコメットです。ほかのねこの名前がカリーです。カリーがだいだいいろです。コメットがくろいろとグレーです。

I live in my house with my husband and two cats. Every day, my cats run and eat. One cat is named Comet, and the other cat is named Curry. Curry is orange, and Comet is black and grey.

So there it is! Next week is my final Spanish lesson, so we’ll see what happens from there. I’m not sure if I will continue or not as the Intermediate class starting in February might be held in a different city that’s a bigger commute. In any event, I’m happy that I got some Spanish basics! Hasta pronto! またね! See you soon!

 

Learning · Projects

Blocked

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For the first time since we’ve been home, I did some art journaling today. Took me over three hours to do one page, because my heart just wasn’t in it. I spent some time looking at old pages from the past year and a half, and so much has changed. Granted, a lot of it was expected: I knew we were going to move home from Japan, I knew we were planning on buying a house, I knew we’d each have new jobs, I knew there’d be a lot of adjusting. But a lot has changed that I didn’t expect.

I’ve been in a funk that I just can’t get out of, and I want the parts of me back that read, write, create, and care. How many days have gone by with me thinking I need to finally get around to writing so and so back, or that I need to work on a project or post on my blog, where I did completely the opposite? How much time have I wasted sleeping or dreaming as I look out at the gloomy weather? I feel blocked, and like it’s time to break the wall.

It’s time to break the wall.

Heard · Learning · Monday Matters

Don’t Be Positive, Idiot!

I was on my way to work a couple weeks ago listening to the Jillian Michael’s podcast, and though I usually find it interesting at the very least, on that day the episode really hit me the wrong way. The episode I was listening to is called “Bad Stuff Happens,” and in it Jillian goes on for about 10 minutes positing that people who are positive are basically unrealistic idiots. She rants about how bad stuff is going to happen, and about how people who deny that are just going to end up more disappointed than if they accepted that not everything always works out in the first place. She also talked about how what matters is how we deal with the bad stuff–the lessons we learn from things that don’t happen the way we’d like.

Now, for the most part, I agree. However, what really bothered me is that Jillian was equating positivity with a lack of realism. She said she “hates positive people,” but to me, people who do the very things she suggests (like finding the good in the bad and learning from hardships) are positive people. I always try to have a positive outlook on things, and that certainly doesn’t mean that I’m denying things might not work out the way I want. For example, we put in an offer on a beautiful house that we both love. And it seemed like everything would probably be fine–almost to the point of it being too good to be true. However, neither of us were like, “We are going to get the house.” We said, “There is a good chance that since our offer was accepted, we will get the house. A lot depends on the inspection, but we’re hoping for the best.” After the inspection, we’ve found there are some things that need to be dealt with, and so now our positive outlook has morphed into “Well, we’ll see how much the sellers are willing to work with us on the things that need to be fixed. There is a good chance they won’t want to, but maybe they will! If they don’t, the house wasn’t meant to be ours and we’ll find something else.” We are being realistic, but we are also being optimistic.

I also feel that every challenge is a lesson, no matter how hard it is to get through at first, and no matter how hard it is for me to initially understand exactly what the lesson may be. I tend to push myself toward gratitude in these cases, which admittedly can be difficult at times. For example, I had a really tough time when leading a training session at a former job in which some trainees just didn’t seem to like me. Their bad attitudes disrupted the entire training session, and ruined all of my excitement about the training. I was in shock, and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. At first, I had to really focus on everything that went right, despite the things that went wrong. I was grateful to have my husband and friends, who supported me and reassured me. And with that change in focus, over time I was able to remain positive and find the lesson: I grew so much, learned a lot about myself and about others, and came to realize that it doesn’t matter if people don’t always like me. In this case, positivity and gratitude went hand in hand. Oh, and I never ever denied how much learning that lesson sucked.

I feel like I could give countless examples of how you can be a positive person without ignoring or denying reality and that bad things happen. Being positive is about choosing to focus on the bright side and about learning from hardships instead of dwelling on them or letting them consume you. I think Jillian Michaels actually encourages positive behavior all the time, and that in her podcast she mislabeled positivity as being synonymous with naiveté and denial. Ultimately, I understand my concern comes down to semantics, but Jillian’s blunt declaration really rubbed me the wrong way. Rather than telling people, “Don’t be positive” or that positive people are idiots, I’d like to say, “Find the positive in every negative, and work your way through it.” That’s what we’re doing with the house, that’s what I did with that training session, and that’s what I continue to do through the tough parts of my day, every day.

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What do you think about positivity and optimism? Do you agree that it’s possible to have a bright, hopeful attitude while being realistic and understanding things don’t always work out?

Food & Cooking · Learning · Seen

Lunch in Paris

paris

Paris, March 2012

So this post isn’t actually about a time I had lunch in Paris (like we were about to in the picture above!), but about the book Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard. I mentioned my sister-in-law Ariel and I have started our own book club, and for our first book we chose this “love story with recipes.”

20130818-100402.jpgWith Lunch in Paris open on the countertop, I gave one of Bard’s recipes a try!

Ariel and I decided to try out some of the recipes in the book to eat way too much of nibble on while we discussed the reading questions, so I chose to make the yogurt cake (recipe after post). I stuck with the recipe’s directions and used apricots, but Bard also suggests using other seasonal fruit, like raspberries or blueberries mixed with a little brown sugar (and to possibly add a streusel topping!).

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I thought the cake turned out quite well–it was sweet without being overwhelmingly so. I mentioned to Ariel that the cake’s flavor reminded me of Japanese sweets. American sweets tend to have intense bursts of flavor all at once, while Japanese sweets have a subtle sweetness that makes you feel as if there is a secret you want to take bites of to discover more. Ariel and I talked a lot about similarities between France and Japan, and how meals in Japan & France contrast with those in America–specifically how Americans tend to favor convenience, speed and overindulgence over the preparation and enjoyment of each meal (meals which in France and Japan–also contrary to the typical American meals–tend to last over an hour or more).

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Ariel made delicious Coconut Macaroons

Ariel and I both feel like we generally try to combat that stereotypical “speed and convenience” attitude when it comes to food–that we try to recognize that when we make a meal, we are working to produce something that is shared together in an intimate, familiar place. Sitting together at the table allows us to focus on each other while connecting over good food and possibly sharing symbols of our family “culture” or our culture at large.

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This wasn’t a competition, but I would say the macaroons won! 😉

One passage that really struck a chord with me in Lunch in Paris was toward the end of the book, where Bard wishes there were an “in-between” place in which she could experience the things she loves about each of her cultures, leaving the not-so-good stuff behind. I could completely relate to that feeling: I want ramen and tonkatsu, but I also love a good roast or having turkey on Thanksgiving. I love all of the kawaii stuff everywhere in Japan, but I also love the convenient, cheap toiletries, makeup, lotion, art supplies, etc. here! I love crazy Japanese fashion, but I also enjoy the practical styles (that I can fit into!) in America. I want the Japanese transportation system, but sometimes nothing is better than going for a car ride with the windows rolled down. I love the focus on presentation and tradition in Japan, but sometimes it’s better to break rules if they don’t make sense and to live a little out of bounds. I’m forever homesick for one place or the other.

We had a lot of fun with our first book, and have decided that we’d like to try recipes out with future books, too! You can look forward to more recipes in the future, but for now, see the recipes we tried below. You can also find the reading guide we used here.

YOGURT CAKE

Gâteau au Yaourt

1 cup plain yogurt

1 cup sugar

A large pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 2/3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

Zest of 1 lemon

One 16-ounce can apricots, drained and quartered

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 10-inch round cake pan and line it with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, salt, and vanilla, whisking until smooth. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Add the eggs one by one, whisking to incorporate after each addition.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda; add to the yogurt mixture; whisk lightly to combine. Stir in the lemon zest.

Transfer the batter to your cake pan; top with the chopped apricots. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and slightly risen. A toothpick in the center should come out clean.

Lift the cake by the parchment paper onto a wire rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. This cake actually gets moister with age, so it tastes great the next day. Simply cover the fully cooled cake with aluminum foil; an airtight container or plastic bag will make it soggy.

Yield: Makes on 10-inch cake

*I adapted the recipe slightly by flipping the cake over after it cooled to make a little dome shape, and by dusting powdered sugar on top. I think the presentation would be even prettier with a couple of fresh apricot slices placed in the middle!

*Recipe originally posted here.

AUNT JOYCE’S COCONUT MACAROONS

2 2/3 cups grated coconut (the fluffier the better!)

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Extra grated coconut to finish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a medium mixing bowl, gently combine 2 2/3 cups of the coconut, the condensed milk and the extracts. Using 2 teaspoons (or even better, a melon baller), form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Work gently, as you would making meatballs; you don’t want your macaroons to be too dense.

Bake in a slow oven for 15 minutes. Depending on the absorbancy of your coconut, the macaroons may ooze a bit; pat them gently back into shape and roll them in additional grated coconut.

Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. These are more like candy than cookies, so serve them sparingly, with good strong coffee.

Yield: Makes 20 macaroons

*Ariel said her macaroons oozed a bit as the recipe predicted they might, but they turned out fabulous. We sampled our desserts with peppermint tea.

*Recipe from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard (pg 314 of our edition).

Have you read any good books lately that you’d like to suggest? What recipes have you tried lately?