OBSESSED: Kid’s Costumes

It’s the day before Halloween!
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I have fun memories of Halloween: trick-or-treating and trading candy, staying up all night watching scary movies, walking down the main street in my college town in costume in the freezing cold with my friends. While I don’t miss the overabundance of “slutty [noun]” costumes (“Sexy Ladybug”? Really?), I do miss stumbling across those folks with genius costumes in the midst of all the “sexy plumbers” and frat boys in those creepy bodysuits that cover your face.
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It’s even more fun for me when brill parents pull out all the stops and make costumes for their kids that make the rest of us laugh our asses off. So, without further ado…D’AAAWWWWWWW! LOOK AT THESE CUTIES!

Static Cling

Laundry mishaps = Annoying. Tiny laundry mishaps = Adorable.

Crazy Cat Lady

…AKA me in about 5 years.

Easy Mac

This actually makes me mega nostalgic. But not for dressing up as pasta (though, those were some good times…)

Bacon & Egg

Because the only thing better than eggs is eggs and bacon worn by a small child.

Cruella de Vil (and a captured dalmation)

Looks like “Lucky’s” luck ran out…

A Paint Set

I love that the paintbrush is so much bigger than the tiny person holding it 😀

Army Guy

This one’s actually a little creepy (and reminds me of those damn bodysuits…).

Max from Where the Wild Things Are

C’mon, I HAD to put a book costume in here!

Lumberbaby

Because beard appreciation should begin at a young age.

and my favorite of all:

Rapunzel in her tower

One of the best things I’ve ever seen. XD

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYBODY!
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Halloween Happenings in London

Welcome back to Travel Thursday: Scary Pumpkin Time edition.
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There’s always something fun to do in London. And even though Halloween isn’t a super big deal over here (like it is in the US), there are still some cool, Halloween-themed events happening this week[end]. Since Halloween is only days away, you probably have plans already. But if you don’t (and even if you do), here are some ideas.

Haunted House of Vans

Head to House of Vans on Saturday for awesome skating, headbanging metal, a movie, and ghouls a-plenty. At 3pm, skateboarders will compete for a £1000 prize in “the bowl.” After that, there’ll be a screening of Lucas Fiederling’s video ‘Where We Come From.’ At 9:30pm, their haunted house opens with performances by Hang the Bastard and Bombus providing the soundtrack. Feel free to give your lungs a rest and your body a workout after as there’ll be DJ sets until 3AM. Admission is free, but if you want to see the bands you’ll need to book in advance.

All Night At The Electric

My favorite cinema in London, the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road, is hosting a movie marathon, starting at 11:45pm Halloween night. The line up for the night will include the Hitchcock classic Psycho, What Have You Done With Solange?, Blood and Black Lace, and that slasher gem, Friday the 13th. Tickets £40 and include an Espresso Martini upon arrival, a breakfast break, and they send you away with a special recovery pack. There are still tickets left! It’ll probably be tough for non-night-owls to stay awake in those comfy armchairs, but it’s worth a try 😀

Grub Club Halloween Dinners

If you’re a fan of the pop-up (or POPdown as the case may be), take a look at grubclub.com for a fun supper club experience. The dinners are hosted by chefs of every background — from the Michelin starred to the up-and-coming — in spots all over London that are sometimes quirky, sometimes funky, sometimes elegant, and sometimes weird (one of the most popular dinners happens in a tube car). Have a look through their Halloween offerings and nab a ticket before they’re all sold out. Ticket prices vary.

Wahaca’s Day of the Dead Festival

In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of loved ones and ancestors who have passed away. As one of London’s go to spots for Mexican food, it seems only right that Wahaca celebrate Mexican culture and recognize the Day of the Dead in a big way. Wahaca will bring together bands like The Horrors, Voodoo Love Orchestra, and a Morrissey tribute band called Mexrrissey (and the award for best band name goes to…), provocative visual art, a market selling artisan Mexican goods, and of course Latin American food for one big blowout that celebrates a beautiful Mexican tradition. This event is something you can attend after Halloween is over and you’re sobbing into your empty candy bowl wondering why! It kicks off November 7th at 1pm. Tickets are £29 in advance and £35 day of.

Of course, you could always try to grab a spot on a Jack the Ripper walking tour (a few of which are free!) or do your own costumed tour of the city (apparently there’s a Harry Potter tour route people can follow on their own, which I will totally do one of these days). OR you could stay home and draw the apocalypse on a pumpkin with a sharpie while you shove as much candy as possible in your mouth and try not to choke to death while you watch Michael Myers try to kill off his last remaining family members (and anyone else who gets in his way. Fools).

Yeah. You should just do that.
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Happy Thursday!

Creepy Reads

Since Halloween is coming so so soon, this Writing Wednesday is all about my favorite spine-tingling reads. These books range from the fun to the whatthef%#*wasthatnoisedidyouhearthatyouheardthatrightholycrapwe’reallgonnadie.

I’ll start you off in low gear.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.

Conor’s mother is dying of cancer. He has nightmares about a monster every night until he finally meets one, but not the monster from his dreams. This monster comes to him on a mission: to hear Conor’s truth. And he won’t leave until Conor admits it — to the monster and to himself.

This story is more sad than it is scary. It’s established early on that the monster isn’t a threat to Conor or in any way frightening to him; it’s Conor’s daily life that fills him with anxiety. The monster tells Conor stories with valuable lessons (like the one above), though he claims he isn’t there to teach Conor anything. The monster is there to help Conor confront his feelings about his mother’s impending death. Like I said, more sad than scary. But the illustrations (done by the oh-so-talented Jim Kay) might give you a daymare or two.

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

“But if I memorize everything in these books, he’ll let me out, right?”
“I don’t think that’ll happen.”
“But then what will become of me?”
The sheep man cocked his head to one side. “Man, that’s a tough one.”
“Please, tell me. My mother is waiting for me back home.”
“Okay, kid. Then I’ll give it to you straight. The top of your head’ll be sawed off and all your brains’ll get slurped right up.”
I was too shocked for words.
“You mean,” I said, when I had recovered, “you mean that old man’s going to eat my brains?”
“Yep, I’m really sorry, but that’s the way it has to be.”

The Strange Library is about…a strange library. The narrator, a young boy, gets trapped by an elderly librarian who locks him in a cell and forces him to read in order to prepare his brain to be eaten. As you can imagine, it’s fairly bleak. Interestingly, the entire story is told in such a straight-forward way that it’s almost funny (despite how terrible everything that’s happening is), which I think has something to do with the fact that the story’s been translated from Japanese into English. And though the narrator eventually escapes, the story does not end happily.

Tinder by Sally Gardner
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I lay injured, a bullet in my side, a sword wound in my shoulder, watching night creep through the trees. Maybe I should have gone with Death when he offered me his bony finger.

The year is 1642. Otto Hundebiss is a soldier of the Imperial Army who narrowly escapes Death. During the journey to rebuild his life, he meets a beast man who seems to know everything about him and gives him magic dice which will always tell him in which direction he should travel. Otto encounters Safire, the love of his life, Mistress Jabber, an evil sorceress with one very long fingernail, a trio of werewolves, and a magic tinder box. In the end, you are left to wonder if any of the strangeness, violence, and terror was even real.

The whole book is illustrated by David Roberts in black, white, and splashes of red that more often than not color blood. The creepy style of the drawings fits perfectly with the story, which keeps you, uneasy, on your toes.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

I think the quote in the picture says it all.

Through the Woods contains five stories, all written and illustrated by Emily Carroll. As if the stories on their own (which are pretty damn creepy) aren’t enough to make you look over your shoulder, you get page after page of nightmarish images to go along with them. Lucky you!

What’s funny is each story in this book reminds me of some other horror story I’ve read. “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” puts me in mind of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. “His Face All Red” made me think of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Every one of Carroll’s stories is original, but each have the feel of a classic horror tale. There’s possession, murder, mystery, and fear. So much fear.

Read it with the light on.

In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

As we were leaving my apartment, Jun found something stuck to the outside of my door and said: “What’s this?” It was a small, dark thing, about half the size of a postage stamp, like a torn scrap of paper. My first thought was that it was a piece of human skin.

Most people are familiar with the Murakami who wrote The Strange Library; not as many are familiar with this one. But he, Ryu, is my favorite of the two, and this book is one of my favorite books.

Kenji is a Japanese guide who specializes in after-hours sex tours in Tokyo. His usual customers are foreign businessmen; more often than not, Americans. After hearing about the brutal murder and dismemberment of a local school girl, Kenji meets Frank, an American who claims to be in Tokyo on business. But something about Frank isn’t right. Though he asks to go to the best sex clubs in the city, nothing seems to excite him. Eventually, Kenji finds out first hand what Frank is really all about.

This is the book that changed the way I look at horror. Sure, Frank is terrifying (if you read the book, you’ll see why) but what’s more terrifying than him is the realization Kenji comes to in the end: that maybe he and Frank aren’t so different after all. Ryu Murakami specializes in dark, violent fiction and this, in my opinion, is his best. It’s my favorite anyway. The first time I read it, I stayed up all night afterwards. I wouldn’t turn the lights off. I just kept thinking about it, for hours. You may not react the same way — it all comes down to who you are — but this story stayed with me.

What are your favorite creepy reads?

Happy Wednesday!

Treat Yoself: Halloween Edition

Halloween is less than a week away!
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So, the only thing to do (of course) is to make all my posts Halloween-themed this week.

You heard me.

You heard me.

To kick things off, why not treat yoself to a Halloweeny afternoon/evening complete with spooky movies/tv and seasonal snacks? Like, while you’re watching The Nightmare Before Christmas for the 10 billionth time…

I watch this movie even when it's nowhere near Halloween OR Christmas time...

I watch this movie even when it’s nowhere near Halloween OR Christmas…

You could pull a Hobgoblin beer out of the fridge. Or a Pumpking. Or a Black Wych. They’re all made by Wychwood Brewery, so take your pick!

I like having choices :D

Each of these beers is on the bitter side (which somehow seems fitting for a ‘dark’ and ‘spooky’ time of year).

And you can munch on some “zombie fingers.”

I love how all they did was slap a different name on the bag.

I love how all they did was slap a different name on the bag.

You could also be interesting/un-lazy and make something really cool, like Ashton’s (of Something Swanky) Pumpkin S’mores Cupcakes.
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Or, something kinda gross-looking (but all in good fun 🙂 ) like Witch Finger Cookies.

“Blood” oozes from beneath almond “fingernails.”

You can throw on my most FAVORITE creepy cartoon ever, BEETLEJUICE!

I used to wish with all my tiny heart to be Lydia.
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Don’t forget to light your Candy Corn and Witches Brew candles.
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And carve a pumpkin or two…
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And wear something awesome because you’d never do fun Halloween stuff with people who’d judge you.
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But whatever you do (or watch, or make, or eat, or drink, or wear), have fun!
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Scare and be scared.
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Just don’t get carried away…
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OBSESSED: Song of the Sea

Have you ever seen The Secret of Kells?
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It’s a beautiful film set long ago about a boy named Brendan who lives in the walled up community of Kells among monks, poor folk, and his uncle, the Abbot Cellach. Brendan has never been outside the walls until the greatest illuminator of the age, Brother Aidan, comes to Kells and shows him the book he’s been working on. Brother Aidan sends Brendan beyond the walls for ink ingredients and Brendan discovers the beauty of the world outside, a beauty necessary to inspire his own illustrations as he trains to be Brother Aidan’s successor.

There’s a great deal more to the story, and the film itself is gorgeously animated. If you haven’t seen it, please do. I loved the film when I first saw it. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out the same filmmakers had later made another film inspired by Irish (and Scottish) legend called Song of the Sea.
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The story begins with a lighthouse keeper and his family, who live on an island. His pregnant wife, Bronagh paints a mural of a selkie — a legendary creature who is human on the land, and a seal in the ocean — on a bedroom wall with their son, Ben, in preparation for the new baby who will soon arrive. But that night, Ben’s mother disappears, and his sister Saoirse shows up in her place. Six years later, Ben is still angry with Saoirse, who he bullies and blames for their mom’s disappearance. Their father, Conor, is depressed and goes out drinking every year on the anniversary of his wife’s disappearance. That night, the night of Saoirse’s 6th birthday, she finds a sealskin coat in her father’s closet and wanders into the ocean, becoming a seal. Conor’s mother, who’s visiting, finds Saoirse asleep on the shore in the middle of the night and decides once and for all to take the children to live in the city on the mainland where they’ll be safe. At first, the children try to make their way back to the island, but soon they get mixed up in a far bigger adventure.

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Everything about this movie is beautiful, from the animation to the legends to the songs sung. Watch it to kick off your weekend with a bit of magic. (And speaking of magic, Brendan Gleeson aka “Mad-Eye” Moody lends his voice to the film, as Conor. He also voiced Abbot Cellach in The Secret of Kells.)
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Happy Friday 🙂

Where Is Home?

Hi everybody! It’s Travel Thursday once again.
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I’ve been in England for over a year now. But one thing that still hasn’t gotten even a little bit easier is answering the question “Where you from?”
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After saying “The States” and hoping they won’t probe any further (and they usually do), I pause, raise my arms in a wild shrug, and go… “Uhhhh…???”
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I know that where a person is from and what place they consider “home” can be completely different, but I usually conflate the two because I associate “home” with what makes me feel like…well…me, and where you’re from is a big part of who you are, right? First, I think about where I was born (New Jersey). Then I think about where I grew up until age 14 (Maryland). Then, I think about where I went to high school and college (North Carolina). Then I think about eeeevvveerrrywhere I’ve lived since then, the friends I’ve made, and the experiences that have made me who I am now.

My parents are both from New Jersey. So I know that some of my habits and ways of speaking originate there. But I’ve never actually lived in NJ beyond age 1, so I tend to rule that out as “Home.”

Maryland is where a lot of my cliched TV moments happened. You know, those memories of riding your bike, and sledding down hills in the snow. It’s where I climbed trees and played tag and rode down the biggest hill in a friend’s neighborhood on a bike with questionable breaks. We also rode down the giant hill in his grandma’s backyard on his red wagon about a bazillion times and somehow managed not to kill ourselves. I made friends I thought I would have forever. I had my first crushes. I was bullied. I got ringworm and pneumonia. I was afraid to sleep in my room at night in my family’s first apartment because my nightlight cast a shadow on the wall that looked like a giant nose (don’t ask why this disturbed me so much — I still don’t know). I kicked a hole in the wall of our townhouse’s basement. I kept rabbits. I listened to cassette tapes on my Walkman while I peeled the wallpaper off the walls in my room at night. Maryland is where my family stopped being a family. Maryland is where I thought I’d always live.

But then there’s North Carolina. Where I went trick-or-treating for the first time, and became a goth for a few years. Where I cried the whole first week of high school because I missed my friends in Maryland and didn’t think I belonged that far south. Where I made fun of teachers who wore giant animal barrettes in their hair, and students whose book reports were actually just summaries of movies they’d seen. Where I made prank calls with my friends and had ridiculously intense feelings about everything. Where I grew much closer to my mom. Where I saw Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time and laughed my ass off with my best friend, who looked so mean the first time I saw her but for some reason I was compelled to talk to her anyway, so I went over and asked her the time. Where I got my heart broken. A lot. Where I got my art stolen and the thief’s version got put on display. Where I found out some of my friends were gay and loved them so much for sharing it with me even though they’d been afraid to. Where I worked really hard in and out of school. Where I was made fun of for being an English major, but figured out that writing was the only thing I really cared about doing. Where I discovered my love for travel, and where I learned Japanese. Where I lost friends, and where I made new ones.

Then Louisville, KY and Houston, TX where mom and I lived, but neither place ever really felt like home.

Then Los Angeles where I was at my absolute worst in almost every way, but where I made two of the best friends I’ve ever made in my life. Where I learned to be a better writer, and reader, and that maybe the United States wasn’t where I was meant to be.

And now…I’m here.

I honestly think any place from your life can be home. For me, if I’m honest, home is more “who” than “where.” Home is all of my best friends. Home is Neal and Choko. Home is my mom. Home is inside my own head, heart, and memories. Home evolves.

But you carry it with you, wherever you go.

Treat Yoself: The Little Viet Kitchen

**Wednesday’s post is now below this one. Apparently something weird was going on, so I re-posted.**

This post was originally going to be about my most recent afternoon tea adventure, but that turned out to be my least favorite of the afternoon teas I’ve had so far. The sandwiches were uninteresting and kind of dry, two of the three desserts were overly sweet (one, I couldn’t even finish). I also had to wait an inordinate amount of time before one of many quick-footed servers whizzing past my table actually paid attention to the pleading expression on my face and brought me my bill. Not the best. But there’ll be others!

Instead, let’s talk about the best Vietnamese meal I’ve had in a very long time. Possibly ever. Let’s talk about Little Viet Kitchen.
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Little Viet Kitchen’s coziness charmed me as soon as I stepped through the door. The person who greeted me was also the one to wait on me, and she was super polite and attentive. In fact, every member of staff that I interacted with (at least three) were great to me from when I walked in until the moment I (reluctantly) left. Their menu isn’t an endless, overwhelming list; I was content with their small variety of permanent choices, plus three specials (1 starter; 2 mains). As far as I’m concerned, that’s all they needed.

While I decided what to order, the waitress brought over a jug of cucumber lemon water for me to sip on.

Mega refreshing.

Mega refreshing.

After browsing the cocktail section, I couldn’t say no to the Pineapple & Lemongrass Fizz. It came to me very simply garnished and with just the right amount of color. I felt kinda sophisticated, not gonna lie.
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As for the food, I chose the Fried Spring Rolls as my starter,

Pork, mushroom, and sweet potato served w/ sweet and sour chilli sauce.

Pork, mushroom, and sweet potato served w/ sweet and sour chili sauce. YUM!

and the braised pork shoulder and golden egg special for my main.
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It came with the perfect portion of rice.

It came with the perfect portion of rice.

Oh. My. GOD. First of all, the spring rolls were beautifully crispy on the outside, and the texture of the combined ingredients was complimented well by the tangy sweet & sour sauce. For the main, shredded braised pork sat in this gorgeous sweet & spicy broth with a few chili shards that spiced it up just enough. And the rice, without a strong flavor of its own, was the perfect neutralizer for the flavor bomb that was the pork shoulder. Hnnnggg. I want more. NOW.

After a crazy delicious main, I sat and admired the low key, intimate atmosphere,
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before choosing the perfect end to my perfect meal. I went with the Chili Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream (decorated with what looked like saffron) and mango salsa.
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The “cake” is more like a brownie in taste and texture and SOOOO GOOOD. I actually prefer brownies to cake (as much as I lurrrve cake) so this was a nice surprise. The rich chocolate flavor, smooth, cold vanilla ice cream, and tart mango salsa married wonderfully together. As a good friend of mine says when she has no words for how amazing something is, Wooooooooshhh!

Little Viet Kitchen is a gem. You won’t be disappointed. And if you are, you’re evil and should be shot into space. Just sayin’.
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Luckily, I had a reservation — I watched more than a few people get turned away because the restaurant was thoroughly booked. So make sure you reserve a table before showing up.

Little Viet Kitchen can be found at 2 Chapel Market, London N1 9EZ.

Happy not-Tuesday!

Writing Academically vs. Creatively

Happy Writing Wednesday!
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If you haven’t already, check out the post that should’ve gone up yesterday but didn’t b/c EVILTHESISISEVIL. **said post is now the “most recent” on my page b/c WordPress problems**
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OK, maybe not completely evil. But it’s stressful as f%!#. The main thing working my nerves is the critical bit.

Writing the novel is fun. That’s why I’m here. But lately, the novel’s been put on hold so I can make progress on the critical analysis. I absolutely get the importance of understanding where your creative work fits within the larger framework of literature that already exists. Fully grasping not only what you’re doing but why you’re doing it (and why you’ve chosen to do it in a particular way) is key and it’s harder to do without first learning the precedents already in place, and deciding which ones to keep and which to cast aside. I haven’t met a writer who does not also champion the act of reading. There are many tropes, clichés, and ideas that have been recycled so often that no one even remembers where they came from anymore. Included in those ideas I’m referring to (if we’re talking about writing specifically) are literary techniques that work well or terribly depending on how they’re used. For a writer, being able to discuss what works in a piece of writing and why it does is as important as being able to read the work in the first place, and doing so is the essence of literary criticism. Writing the analytic portion of a Creative Writing thesis (or dissertation depending on what country you’re in) basically means becoming a literary critic for a while.

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It’s my opinion that having the lit critic’s ability to locate writing historically and generically is important for any fiction writer, whether they plan to dabble in criticism or not. And writing a critical piece alongside your creative work can be incredibly helpful because it allows you to see parallels between your work and existing work, and to make discoveries, like where a turn of phrase or idea was first coined as well as the context surrounding it. Personally, through working on this critical analysis, I’ve realized that my creative work was not taking some pretty crucial stuff into account. But as eye-opening as this process has been, it’s also been kinda soul-crushing.

Academic writing is SO DIFFERENT from creative writing. I haven’t had to write this way since I was an undergraduate. During my MFA program, all of the written work we submitted was creative. Whenever critical analysis was required, we gave oral reports. Since it’s been a while since I’ve had to do this, I feel like everything I produce comes off like it was written by a preschooler. Reading scholarly texts can be really intimidating. Some of them use about 5 gazillion words to express the simplest ideas. And of those 5 gazillion words, 4.5 gazillion are words you’ve never heard a normal person use in a sentence.
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And I’m no moron. But I do suffer from Imposter Syndrome (or as I like to call it, Bridget Jones Disease).
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Creative Writing is my element. It has no set requirements. There’s no need to cite sources (though if you include some clever allusions, good for you). You’re allowed to be as nonsensical and ridiculous as you like, following no rules but those you’ve set for yourself. But knowing existing rules and seeing which ones fit your goals for your work is a pretty good idea.

In the end, both styles of writing have their place, and can be very helpful when done together. There’s an exchange that happens between them which allows both realms to keep progressing. In other words, one or the other might be hell to do, but the world needs both. Damnit.

Sorry!

Thesis writing murdered me to the point that I don’t have Tuesday’s post ready for you.

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I’m sorry!!! Truly.

It’ll be up tomorrow, alongside Wednesday’s post. So you’ll get double the word-vomit! YAY!

Until tomorrow, my friends.

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Happy Tuesday!

OBSESSED: How To Cake It!

I love food.

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I also love watching people who are super talented at making food do their thing. Yolanda Gampp is one of those people. Her YouTube channel “How To Cake It” is full of fun video tutorials on making one of my favorite foods: cake (duh). My favorite thing about Yolanda’s cakes, though, is that most of them don’t look like cake. “How To Cake It” shows you how to turn things that aren’t cake into cake.

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No, not like that.

She’ll show you how to make a cake that looks like, say, a giant sausage with sauerkraut and onion for Oktoberfest…

or macaroni and cheese…

or a giant jar of Vegemite.

She also cakes non-food items like books, clothing, and TV/movie characters like Rainbow Dash (My Little Pony) and the minions from Despicable Me. While she’s baking, she wears cake-themed shirts that go with whatever she’s making in that video. (You can buy them from her website.)

She’s also hilarious to me. The stuff that would normally be considered “outtakes” are just part of the video, which makes them even more fun to watch. So go watch them! New uploads every Tuesday.

I’ll leave you with some brain cake for your pet zombie.

Happy almost-Halloween!