Learning to be Beyoncé

Hey there.

I’ve been fighting the urge to fall off the face of the earth and drift into the abyss of time. It’d be so easy!
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When I first got to England, I was doing so many things! Now my life has fallen into a pretty solid routine. Not as many shenanigans to write about! But I like talking to y’all and I don’t want to leave this wonderful blogging community. So I’ve been hanging on by my fingernails, doing my writing posts here and there, but not posting much else. Sorry about that.

I’ve noticed that an integral part of my being, from the time I was little, has been the instinct to apologize. I apologize and explain as a way of curbing disappointment. Most people just live their lives without apology, which I’m now making more of an effort to do. But I still feel that tug, and hear that voice that says “YOU OWE PEOPLE AN EXPLANATION.” I’ve been doing it a lot at work, since this has been my first month working for this company, and I always feel bad when I can’t give someone the answer/info they’re looking for despite the fact that you can’t know something you don’t know. There’s a hidden object computer game called “The Scruffs” and in the second game of the series, there’s a character who freaks out whenever anyone even suggests that she’s made a mistake. “Freaks out” as in foams at the mouth and becomes almost homicidal. I’m kind of like that, except there’s less anger and more face-palming and curling up under the nearest desk when I make mistakes, so I avoid it whenever I can.

But I went to a work party last week (the mere idea of which typically terrifies me) and had a great time. I wasn’t at all apologetic — about how I look, where I come from, what I say, or how I say it — and people didn’t run away. It was fun and I felt floaty afterwards (the alcohol probably had a little to do with that, but…eh, why be picky — results are results). I’m really glad to have this job because, despite how little energy I end up with at the end of the day, I’d spent previous days isolated and writing. So it’s nice to constantly be interacting with new people. What’s really inspiring and wonderful about my job is how creative everyone is. There are a good few writers on staff (and on the list of former staff), a couple of whom are in post-punk bands (how cool is that?!), visual artists, classical musicians… it’s amazing. I’m in awe of my coworkers and it makes that flame under my butt burn hotter knowing that these people are accomplishing cool shit every day.

They’re also super nice. One of them ordered the book I contributed a short story to as soon as I told him about it; another bought me the cutest cookie sandwich ever when I told her I’d celebrated my birthday a couple of days prior.

It was Neapolitan (vanilla, strawberry, chocolate) and delicious.

I just watched a video on YouTube by another American living in London who mentioned that making friends in the UK is different than it is back home. She said she’s been here for 6 years and still hasn’t made a British friend. She has drinks with her colleagues after work and whatnot, but by “friend” she meant someone you invite over who also invites you over, or who you take trips with; someone you can get in touch with at any random time to talk to about personal/hard things going on in your life. It made me feel better to hear someone who’s been here longer than I have say that. I’ve been wondering why it’s been so hard for me to make that kind of friend here, and I’ve worried that maybe, despite the research I’d done on people in the UK before coming here, I was doing something wrong. But her video reminded me that it’s nothing personal; it’s just a cultural difference. Despite sharing a language, Brits and Americans are different. People here don’t give much of themselves away very quickly. But patience is a virtue, as they say (and has never been a strong suit of mine) so it’s just something that’s gonna take time.

I think getting older is a great thing, because now, finally, it’s becoming easier and easier to be myself with strangers (and very recently) without apology. And I have definitely met people here who make me feel like it’s OK to be me. People who I think I can eventually become close with. I like how that feels. 🙂

This is one of those weird, ramble-y posts. I had a lot I wanted to tell you, so I did. But I won’t apologize for it, because:
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Peace.

P.S.
Happy birthday, Harry (and Ms. Rowling)!!! 😀

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Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

What up, y’all?

Last night, I attended the readings of the work shortlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction at Cadogan Hall.

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One of the most prestigious literary awards in the world, the BAILEYS Women’s Prize for Fiction – previously known as the Orange Prize for Fiction – celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world.

It was a cool event, with a wine & nibbles bar on one level, a cocktail bar on another level, and a Waterstones book stall where you could buy copies of any of the six shortlisted titles. I, of course, had to buy them all. (Support authors and bookstores!) The ooooonly downside to the event was the fact that I could basically count the number of men present on one hand. Women have always been expected to read male authors, but apparently the reverse is unthinkable for some even today. It’s the same for books written by writers of color. I think many people automatically feel alienated when, on the surface, they don’t have much in common with an author (despite us all being human beings who live human lives and experience human things). It’s like “Ah, that book was written by a woman — must not have anything in it that’ll apply to me or my life as a beardy lumberjack spacecowboy.” But…don’t you, as a man, interact with women on a daily basis? Don’t you have female relatives, friends, co-workers, and/or acquaintances? Isn’t your life influenced by the mere existence of women on Earth, just as our lives are influenced by your existence? Male, female, black, white, Asian, Russian, alien overlord… We can, and should, learn from and be entertained by one another at every opportunity! How else can we squash misunderstandings and move forward?

Anyhoo, I really enjoyed this event. Then again, I always love hearing authors read and talk about their work. Unfortunately two of the shortlistees (Anne Enright & Hanya Yanagihara) couldn’t make it — each had male stand-ins — but Anne’s reader, Robin Robertson (her editor), was my favorite of the night. It was also really nice to hear him talk about how much he admired and believed in Anne’s work. It’s good to have people like that behind you.

By now, you’re probably staring at your screen thinking, “Well…?! What are the shortlisted titles, you f*%#ing tease?!” So here’s the breakdown (and I haven’t read any of these books yet, so I’m going to use their descriptions from the BWP website):

Ruby by Cynthia Bond
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Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East-Texas town. For Ruby Bell, Liberty was a place of devastating violence from which she fled to seedy, glamorous 1950s New York.

Years later, pulled back home, thirty-year-old Ruby is faced with the seething hatred of a town desperate to destroy her. Witnessing her struggle, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

The Green Road by Anne Enright
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A darkly glinting novel set on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, The Green Road is a story of fracture and family, selfishness and compassion – a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we learn to fill them.

The children of Rosaleen Madigan leave the west of Ireland for lives they never could have imagined in Dublin, New York and various third-world towns. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
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One messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Ryan is a fifteen-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father Tony, whose obsession with this unhinged next-door neighbour threatens to ruin him and his family.

Georgie is a prostitute whose willingness to feign a religious conversion has dangerous repercussions, while Maureen, the accidental murderer, has returned to Cork after forty years in exile to discover that Jimmy, the son she was forced to give up years before, has grown into the most fearsome gangster in the city.

In seeking atonement for the murder and a multitude of perceived sins, Maureen threatens to destroy everything her son has worked so hard for, while her actions risk bringing the intertwined lives of the Irish underworld into the spotlight…

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
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Meet Veblen: a passionate defender of the anti-consumerist views of her name-sake, the iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen. She’s an experienced cheerer-upper (mainly of her narcissistic, hypochondriac, controlling mother), an amateur translator of Norwegian, and a firm believer in the distinct possibility that the plucky grey squirrel following her around can understand more than it lets on.

Meet her fiancé, Paul: the son of good hippies who were bad parents, a no-nonsense, high-flying neuroscientist with no time for squirrels. His recent work on a device to minimize battlefield trauma has led him dangerously close to the seductive Cloris Hutmacher, heiress to a pharmaceuticals empire, who is promising him fame and fortune through a shady-sounding deal with the Department of Defence. What could possibly go wrong?

The Improbability of Love by Hanna Rothschild
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When lovelorn Annie McDee stumbles across a dirty painting in a junk shop while looking for a present for an unsuitable man, she has no idea what she has discovered.

Soon she finds herself drawn unwillingly into the tumultuous London art world, populated by exiled Russian oligarchs, avaricious Sheikas, desperate auctioneers and unscrupulous dealers, all scheming to get their hands on her painting – a lost eighteenth-century masterpiece called ‘The Improbability of Love’.

Delving into the painting’s past, Annie will uncover not just an illustrious list of former owners, but some of the darkest secrets of European history – and in doing so she might just learn to open up to the possibility of falling in love again.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
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When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented lawyer yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by a degree of trauma that he fears he will not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.

The winner of the prize will be announced tonight! After getting to know these authors a little, I’m excited to find out who won. (The first audience member to get the mic during the Q&A asked the authors 1) if they’ve read each other’s work and 2) their own book aside, which would each of them want to see win? Too bad the chair of the judging panel vetoed the question before they could answer it.)

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think?

L is for Life Diary

Whut up, y’all?!

Like I said Wednesday, and as you may have noticed, I haven’t been around much lately. So today’s episode is brought to you by the letter L for Life Diary, which just means I’m going to spew photos all over you from the last month or so and add helpful captions so you know what I’ve been up to lately. FYI, these photos are going backwards in time. Your scrolling hand just might start to ache. So heeeerrrreee we go!

A visitor showed up in our back garden the other day.

Choko spied on him…

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…and was an all-around beauty queen while doing it.

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Neal said “Beauty? Pshhh…I’m too tired for all that.”

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I spent an afternoon in Richmond, loving life…

…and had a deelicious steak, salad, and sweet potato fries for lunch at Buenos Aires (the restaurant, not the capital of Argentina).

Choko was her radiant self again during a photo shoot by the window.

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I got a new throw and a couple pillows from Home Base; the little ones tested them out…

…and Neal sunbathed on the rug.

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Things got a lil cray-cray when the bottom rail broke off of one of my living room windows.

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Remember my post about The Killing Joke and how it’s been adapted into an animated film? Well to celebrate, I went out and dropped crazy £££ on some comic/cartoon loot.

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I also went to Kopapa for the first time and had a tasty tuna steak.

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Neal tucked himself in since I didn’t get home fast enough to do it myself.

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I bought my first Jo Malone candle and felt like a fancy-schmancy adult.

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Velvet Rose & Oud. Amazing. I also bought Mimosa & Cardamom (but I haven’t started burning that one yet). Yes, that is a skeletal hand holding the candle. I’m a creepy little weirdo — didn’t you know?

I went back to my beloved Claridge’s for their Easter themed afternoon tea! The champagne was so good I shelled out for a second glass.

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I met up with Emma, Flick, Frankie, & Sophie at Dirty Bones for some good eats. I ordered The Asian hot dog: “kimchi ketchup, wasabi mayo, crispy seaweed, pickled sushi ginger and sesame seeds.” 😛 More pleeeasseee!

Neal did MORE sunbathing…

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…and looked kinda like roadkill…

I had a mega-good haggis toastie from Deeney’s at Broadway Market. I ordered the Hamish Macbeth, which is haggis, grated cheddar, rocket, caramelized onions, mustard, and bacon on granary bread. Try one. You won’t regret it.

I had the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory themed afternoon tea one day at One Aldwych. Quite good.

Neal decided that my desk chair looked better under him than me.

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And waaaaay back at the beginning of March, I returned to Cheltenham and my beloved No. 131 where I had good food and drink…

…saw some sights…

…and relaxed.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past month-and-a-half! Well, that and trudging back and forth to the gym.

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…and preparing for a blizzard, clearly.

This weekend I’m heading to Bristol! I’ve only ever heard good things about it (a couple I sat next to in No. 131’s restaurant was from there and gave me another 50 reasons why I should go asap) so I’m excited to finally visit. 😀

What have you been up to lately?

I is for Internet Dating

I just recently (as in, like, three days ago) embarked on a journey of internet weirdness and joined a dating site. I’ve had a few false starts with these things in the past (i.e. letting the sleazy creeps scare me into deleting my profile after about 5 minutes). But it’s actually not such a bad thing to do if you’re a shy lil flower who finds it hard to meet people in real life. This is what I’ve learned so far:

It can be overwhelming.
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SO many people join these sites, which means there are crazy amounts of profiles to sift through. Lots of people will view your profile, a good chunk of those viewing will “like” your profile, and some will send you messages. Being bombarded with information from so many different humans at once has made me want to dig a hole and stuff my head into it ostrich-style. Since joining, I’ve actually said, out loud, multiple times, “Whyyyyyy do you people keep talking to me? Go away!” Then I remember, you joined a dating site, you fool; you brought this apocalypse of desire upon yourself. Congrats.

There are actually cool folks to be found online.
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In the midst of all the crazy, I’ve actually connected with a couple of decent guys already. This does not translate into DEAR GOD, YES — THE SEARCH HAS ENDED. Nope. Far from it. But I definitely see the potential for good friendships to come out of this if nothing else. And in London, where you apparently need to be out rioting and grinding in a gaggle of people before anyone is convinced you’re actually having a good time (a guy at the BFI called my night boring last Friday when I told him I’d be spending it watching the Hitchcock/Truffaut film. A guy who worked there.), it’s nice to have someone you can occasionally shove into the faces of passersby and scream “See? I’m out with someone! I’m having fun! SEE?!”

The creeps are still out there.
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In the name of research, I really wish I’d recorded all the user names I’ve encountered thus far containing the words “dick” and/or “naughty.” I only search through the profiles of people who’ve already liked mine to begin with, so I won’t even venture a guess as to how many other “naughtybigdick”s and “miis0horny”s and “pussydestroyer”s make up the entire site (These aren’t real usernames. Then again, they probably are.), but I think I can say with total confidence the answer is “a lot.” (Come to think of it, that’s probably a username, too. A bit on the subtle side. I might actually talk to that guy…). But to be fair, the creeps aren’t just the people who send you messages asking if you “punish bad boys” (yes, this happened). I also count as creeps the guys who don’t listen when you point out that the two of you aren’t looking for the same thing. Yes, I’m interested in friendship. No, that does not mean “friends with benefits.” Yes, I enjoy sex. No, I don’t want to have it with you.

It’s important to know and STATE exactly what you want.
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If you were my shrink, I could give you a (semi-long) list of reasons why I still fight the urge to be the kind of person who accommodates others more often than not. I am fairly laid back when it comes to a lot of things, but I’m talking about putting your own needs/wants aside so as not to seem “rude.” Now that I’m closer to being a grownup, I’m willing to shout it from the rooftops: BE FUCKING RUDE! OK, fine, you don’t have to be a jerk about it (if you don’t want) but whether you do it politely or with brick-bashing harshness, tell people what you want! Otherwise, how will they know? You know how folks say “life is short” and “time is precious” and all that? That includes YOUR life and YOUR time. Being clear about who you are and what you’re about saves time. Which means it saves lives. Like your life. Which is precious. Damn clichés.

Picky is protection.
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This goes hand in hand with the above point. In my first attempts at online dating, I set my parameters wide. Like, ages 21-50 wide. I was worried that if I didn’t try to accept every type of guy that I might miss out on the right one. Now I have a much better idea of what I want & don’t want, and what I’m willing & unwilling to accept. It’s actually a huge relief to have a more precise picture of what I want because it automatically cuts out everyone who doesn’t fit (and saves time 🙂 ). There’s nothing wrong with being picky. It means you won’t settle. Of course, I’m gonna pick my battles and not stamp EVERY guy’s forehead with a big, red UNACCEPTABLE. But it really does make life easier when you can say “no” with confidence, and not let the possibility of missing out keep you bogged down by a bunch of nonsense.

Finding the right person is still hard.
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Is it easier for a shy person to meet people online? Yes. At least it’s easier for this shy person. However, “the one” did not magically appear on my computer screen sporting a unicorn-glow as soon as I uploaded my profile. It’s tricky navigating the interwebz and picking out people who might actually be compatible with you. Yes, the algorithm is supposed to handle that for you but, as one of the guys I’ve met said, the compatibility percentage can be majorly misleading. You have to use all of those likes and dislikes and “I want”s and “I don’t want”s to exclude the glaring “no”s, then you examine what’s left and hope you make a genuine connection with someone. There are so many people in this world, and every single one of them is different, which makes finding the person for you that much harder. Hopefully, after all the naughty boys and big dicks, it’ll be worth it in the end.

Happy Tuesday!

A is for…

Hey, hey, hey, everybody 🙂

I’ve been taking a break to do thesis things and get my life together a little. How have you been?

I thought I’d try something new…again. This time, I’m going to go through the alphabet and do one blog post per letter. I won’t be doing this every single day. More like every other day. I’ll be writing about everything — food, books, things to do in London — all the things you’d normally see here anyway, just in a different format. And once we get to Z, well… who knows?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll start at the beginning.

A is for Acton.

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One of the first photos I took after moving here.

This month marks my one year anniversary of living in London! I moved to England at the end of September 2014, but didn’t move to London until February 2015. Even though I’d been living in England for a few months by the time I moved, I hadn’t done enough exploring to figure out where I really wanted to live. The flat I found in Acton was the cheapest I could get at the time (or so I thought) without a roommate that still put me relatively close to the London action. I had nowhere else to stay and no more time to look, so I moved in here.

Acton is in Zone 3, next door to Shepherd’s Bush (Zone 2) where there’s a Westfield mall, a Vue cinema, and a number of restaurants, shops, and concert venues. Shepherd’s Bush also has two tube stations (Circle and Hammersmith & City, and Central lines) and an overground station (National Rail services will resume there soon, too) all within walking distance of each other. Acton itself has two overground stations (South Acton and Acton Central), Acton Town tube station on the Piccadilly line (which is quite close to Heathrow airport), and North, East, & West Acton tube stations on the Central line. Not to mention the various buses that run through here.

In truth, it’s not the most exciting place, and I’ve since discovered which boroughs would actually be ideal for me. But in the meantime, I’ve got easy access to Chiswick, which is lovely and villagey, Richmond which is pleasant, clean, and has a bunch of my favorite shops, and transport links into central London and all it has to offer.

Not too shabby.

There’s also a great artisan wine shop with a wine bar only steps away (both owned by the same super nice couple), and pubs scattered all over with some pretty great deals. There’s one nearby that’s got pints for £2.50! (Once you’ve been to a few pubs in London, you start to realize what a rare blessing a cheap pint is.)

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For the non-boozers, there’s a cute little park beside Acton Central Overground, fitness centers, and plenty of sidewalks to stroll/ride along. In other words, there’s something for just about everybody. And like I said, whatever isn’t here can surely be found in Shepherd’s Bush or Chiswick.

I’m counting on freedom starting today or tomorrow, which means I’ll actually be able to go out and do things in the city again. I’ve also gotten started on a couple of those life resolutions of mine. I’ll let you know what kind of progress I make 🙂

Happy Monday!

Life Resolutions

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Can you believe it’s already 2016?

I wish I could be like some of the other people I know who’ve said that 2015 has been their “best year yet” and that they can’t wait for what 2016 holds. I can’t in all honesty agree with the first part, but some pretty great things have happened to me in the past year that I’m very grateful for. However, I wholeheartedly agree with the second part: I’m curious about what the new year will bring. I have some goals that I hope to accomplish, but they aren’t “New Year’s Resolutions” because they’re things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Like…

Have A Healthy Body

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I have some really unhealthy habits leftover from high school (when my epic metabolism prevented love handles) that I’d like to get rid of for good. Exercise for me takes the form of an occasional long walk and some crunches here and there. I want to get into a regular routine of activity, but more than that, I REALLY wanna learn how to eat healthy. Up til now, I’ve been erratic with my healthy eating b/c it always seemed so expensive to get healthy foods that also tasted great. I love Whole Foods like woah, but I can’t shop there all the time. And when I put my healthy shopping on pause, it opens me up to eating truckloads of sugar and fast food and anything else that’ll mean I don’t have to do the dishes. I know you don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to be a healthy eater, but for a lazy eater like me, it’s just easier when a store is basically like “ONLY HEALTHY THINGS SOLD HERE.” Anyway, I’d like to get back on the health horse without falling off this time. Here’s hoping.

Have A Healthy Mind

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Without going into too much detail, this has been my biggest struggle. Not of 2015 — of my life. Having great friends and loving family members is helpful, but there’s a lot I need to do on my own to reach this goal. It’s an ongoing battle that I’ve already made progress with, but there’s always more to do. I plan on making more strides in this part of my life, too.

Visit Japan

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I have wanted to do this since I was 11 and watched my first episode of Dragon Ball Z. Japan’s history and culture is so rich and unique; I’ve always had a soft spot for it (and a slight obsession). The language is rhythmic and beautiful. The fiction is dark and strange. I need to visit that country. Growing up, what stopped me was a lack of funds. These days, what stops me is fear. I absolutely want to be there, but I haven’t spoken the language since I was an undergrad and have since forgotten a lot of it. I always wanted to go there as a fluent speaker. But now that I’m basically back at square one, the idea of going seems kind of scary to me. I know English is spoken there, but I want to be able to speak to people comfortably in Japanese. I’m planning to take classes or find a private tutor who can help me get back to a good place with the language so I can finally, confidently, journey to the place I’ve always dreamed of visiting.

Explore!

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London, England, Europe, everywhere I can (and want to)! Now that I live here, my head is constantly spinning with how many boroughs there are to visit, hidden streets to discover, and countries only a cheap flight or train ride away. There are places I haven’t yet been and places I hope to revisit with older eyes. Go, go, goooo!!!

Finish this $&^%#^%$@#&^% Book!

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This novel has been in my head for years and now that it’s finally being put to paper, it’s a little scary. But I need to finish this because I know that doing so will make me feel so satisfied. It’s weird how frightening putting your ideas into action (or essentially, getting what you want) can be. But I want to do this — need to — because it really matters to me. I’m a writer. Do you know how hard it is for me to say that?! It doesn’t feel like a real thing unless you have something published that people actually know about. But if you spend your time writing, it’s true. Whether you’re published or not. So I’ll tack another goal onto this one: don’t be afraid to call yourself a writer.

Love Unabashedly

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I am a love monster. An affection bomb. I love showing love. But not everyone is comfortable with that. This goal actually goes hand-in-hand with my mental health goal in that it requires me to stop caring what other people think. If someone is uncomfortable with the way you are, there are sooooo many other people in the world whom you can befriend, fall in love with, or smile at on the subway. Not everyone likes everyone else. Not everyone clicks with everyone else. And that’s OK! My goal is to be my weird, crazy, brimming-with-love self without discomfort because there is always at least one person out there who will appreciate you for who you actually are (and luckily, I already have a few of those people in my life 🙂 ).

I also have hopes for all of you. I hope that this year, you make yourself so, so proud. Be happy, all of you.

My blogging schedule is going to change again. I’ve found that writing 4 times a week (on top of the other writing I need to do) is a bit of a struggle for me. So I think I’ll just post when I really have something I want to say to you (until I find a comfortable routine). But I’m glad I tried out the themed posts because now I know that I can do it if the whim ever strikes me again.

See you next time, you crazy animals.

 

Scrapin’ Cheese

Whyyyyyyy is it so hard to go back to doing something after you’ve taken a break from it? WHY?

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OK. Deep breaths… Alright, cool.

Have you ever tried raclette? No, that’s not a fancy name for eXtasy. It’s two things (according to Wikipedia): 1) a type of “semi-firm cow’s milk cheese” whose surface you melt and scrape off the larger mass of cheese onto other unsuspecting foods (or maybe just onto a plate), and 2) a dish with French & Swiss origins which involves the heating and scraping of cheese onto foods which traditionally include small potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions, and dried meats. Either way, there’s scraping involved.

Last week, I went out with the super amazing trio of Frankie, Flick, and Sophie to try raclette for the first time at the lovely Truc Vert in Mayfair. It was the day after I’d flown back into England, and the jet lag struggle was too real. I was the laziest food-eater/cheese-scraper/blog person ever (Flick side-eyed me in a major way when I wiped my phone’s camera lens with my finger. SO tired, y’all…). An interesting, double-decker contraption was in the middle of the table. The first level looked like two grills flanking a smooth granite rectangle. The level underneath had individual, triangular trays for heating our cheese slices. The four of us examined our cheese trays and poked at the cooker like a bunch of toddlers. I don’t think any of us had tried raclette before; it was all pretty fascinating.

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After bringing us a bottle of the house white wine, our friendly servers brought over all the accoutrements: the potatoes, the gherkins, the pickled onions, the platter full of mouth-watering meats, stacks of bread, and the star of the show, sliced raclette cheese for melting. This is when my curious foodpanions went into serious blogger mode with their awesome cameras clicking away. Me, I took a few lame-o shots with my finger-smudged phone camera (cuz deep down, I’m just a 5 year-old who’s hungry AF).

Observations:
1. Pickled onions make everything better. Where have these sweet, tangy lil bulbs of deliciousness been all my life?!?!?!

2. Trying to eat more than 2 melted slices of cheese (as in melting more than 2 slices at the same time and trying to eat it) is no bueno for me.

3. If #2 is true of you, too, it’s a good idea to eat with at least one cheese champion, like Flick, who’ll eat the melted cheese you don’t eat b/c you’re being a candy ass.

4. No amount of bread is ever enough.

5. Raclette is tasty and fun!

If you’re looking for a cool social eating experience, give raclette a try. And if you need somewhere to try it, Truc Vert’s a great place to lose your raclette virginity. Do it.

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Thanks for inviting me along, Frankie! And thank you to Truc Vert for being such awesome hosts 🙂

Pre-departure Montage

What up?

I’ll be heading back to the good ole US of A tomorrow (EDIT: for the holidays; not permanently!) and am STILL preparing, so instead of a week of normal posts, I’m going to give you everything at once. I’ll be visiting with loved ones until the end of the month, so I’m not sure if next week will be back to normal posting or if I’ll just take that time to be away from my computer completely; we’ll see. In the meantime, here’s a week’s worth of posts in one!

Treat Yoself Tuesday: Brunch @ Darwin Brasserie

Susan and I went for the All Day Sunday Brunch at Darwin Brasserie, one of three eateries at the Sky Garden (which is inside the Walkie Talkie building at 20 Fenchurch Street). Walking into the restaurant, you pass a full to bursting cold buffet table with tons of eats, including salmon, bread, prawn salad, deli meats (prosciutto, ham, salami, and the like), fruit smoothies, and a dessert table covered in creme brulee, jam and chocolate-filled donuts, blueberry cheesecake, and other lovelies. In addition to taking your pick from the buffet table, you have a Bloody Mary bar (which we took advantage of — traditional for Susan; oyster & Chinese chili for me), a “milkshake” bar, a juice bar, and a hot dish of your choice from the kitchen. I went for the Beef Hash with fried egg; Susan went for the full English Breakfast. Susan enjoyed her full English (except for the black pudding). I would have enjoyed mine if not for the brown sauce mixed into the dish. They gave me a dish of brown sauce on the side in addition and honestly I would’ve preferred to just have it on the side — that way I could choose how much I wanted to use. Other than that though, the food was fantastic, and the after-brunch-views were of course spectacular. I’d love to go back to check out the garden more closely some day soon.

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Writing Wednesday: What I’ve Read Lately

I have a habit of reading several books at once, but since I’ve only just had my Confirmation, I’ve only just started reading fiction again. As such, I’ve only finished 2 books so far.

Less Than Zero is Bret Easton Ellis’s first novel. He started writing it while he was still in highschool; finished it in college. He grew up in the Valley with rich friends who lived in the Hollywood Hills, so this novel about jaded college freshmen from LA with too much of everything definitely has details scoured from his own experiences (at least as far as the indiscriminate sex and drug use). For me, this book hit a little too close to home, not that I know what it’s like to grow up with rich, film industry big-wigs as parents in a Beverly Hills mansion; but it did remind me of what it can be like to be young in Los Angeles… in this case, not necessarily a good thing. Clay comes home for his winter break from an East Coast college and pretty much falls back into the life he had with his friends before he left. But his mindset’s shifted slightly, so the things his friends do (which escalate from “Oh, they’re just young” to “WTF?!”) don’t always sit well with him, especially as they get more and more outrageous. This is not a book for the faint of heart.

If you’ve read The Bone Clocks, the events of this story will be somewhat familiar to you as they take place within the same universe. This story has at its center a mysterious residence which becomes something different depending on who visits. The people in charge of it want one thing in particular, and will do anything to get it, including manipulating reality. I can’t say too much without giving vital things away, and I think the less you know going in (excluding what you may have gleaned from The Bone Clocks) the better.

As for what I’m in the process of reading, there’s The Loney (Andrew Michael Hurley), The Road to Little Dribbling (Bill Bryson), Lunar Park (Brett Easton Ellis), Never the Bride (Paul Magrs), and various comic books and graphic novels.

Travel Thursday: Heading “Home”

I told you all that the concept of “home” is sort of complicated for me. Well, I’m going back to the country of my birth this week XD Hahahaha. Sounds so formal and dumb when you say it like that. I’m going to a couple of cities to see some of my favorite people. The thing I’m looking forward to most is having an early Xmas with my mom 😀 (since we can’t spend the actual holiday together) We’re gonna eat everything in the world on Thanksgiving, watch our favorite movies/TV shows, decorate her tree, and exchange gifts. I’m super excited to give her her presents (and to eat her cooking again)!

The last time I visited the US, it felt really weird. Every morning I woke up anxious, thinking I had to get to work, before remembering that I don’t live there anymore. It’s f**kin weird going back to a place where you had a life when your current life is elsewhere. And it’s so easy to fall back into the same routine. Going to your favorite restaurants, watching your favorite stuff on TV, hearing people speak the way you remember (and regaining your accent for a while). But there’s also this feeling that everything you’re experiencing is somehow new, even though it isn’t. It’s crazy.

OBSESSED: “BMO Noire”

I love cartoons. A lot. One of my favs is Adventure Time. There’s one character that’s a computer — his name is BMO. He can walk around and talk and think independently. Recently, I fell back in love with an older episode where BMO has his own story apart from Finn and Jake. They go to a party and leave BMO home on his own. Finn’s pissed b/c he can’t find one of his socks, so BMO spends the whole episode pretending to be a Raymond Chandler-esque detective who finds out what happened to it. The voice actress who does BMO’s voice is Korean and she keeps her accent when she does his voice; his dialogue in this episode is also full of  misinterpretations of American/Western phrases from old detective novels. It’s hilarious and adorable. The video above is a preview of the episode from when it first came out. If I could post the episode in full, I would. But I can’t. So you should find it and watch it.

So that’s everything. I’ll probably say hello at some point while I’m away — on Twitter or in a post here. But for now, I’ll say: Have a great week, y’all!

Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s

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At first I held off on making this declaration, but I think I should just go ahead and admit it: I had the best afternoon tea of my life at Claridge’s. Afternoon tea at Sketch is a verrrry close second, but Claridge’s wins overall.

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Every inch of the place is beautiful, including the bathrooms where a polite attendant sets out a hand towel for you to dry off with after you’ve washed your hands, and offers to take your coat to the cloakroom. Even though I was early, they seated me right away (unlike the disappointing afternoon tea I had a couple weeks ago where I had to wait for a table despite having a reservation). The maître d’ kindly took me through the menu before leaving me to settle in.

I was reading Less Than Zero. Not exactly fancy tea reading, but there ya go.

I was reading Less Than Zero. Not exactly fancy tea reading, but there ya go.

A string duo (pianist and cellist) provides the soundtrack for what is ultimately a very relaxed atmosphere. Yes, people are well-dressed (I honestly would’ve felt like crap if the floral centerpieces had looked better than I did), and the place is pretty fancy, but here’s the thing: it’s not snooty. No one at Claridge’s makes you feel bad for not being a duchess or an earl. You’re spending money there — a hefty chunk, I might add — and they respect that. And you. I also wasn’t treated like a freak for dining alone (which can sometimes happen).

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My dinner-jacketed server arrived after giving me an adequate amount of time to choose from their selection of teas, of which there’s a good variety available. The server then explained that he would be refilling my tea cup by cup. From then on, he continually refilled my small teapot with piping hot water, instead of leaving me a larger pot full of tea that would eventually grow tepid over the course of my meal. Smart idea.

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The sandwiches I had (which are slightly different than what’s currently listed on the Claridge’s website) were Burford brown egg & watercress on onion bread; English cucumber, buttermilk and sorrel on white bread; corn fed chicken, thyme and cep mayonnaise on rye bread; Severn & Wye smoked salmon, whipped brown butter with lemon and samphire on malt bread; Dorrington ham, celeriac remoulade, smoked tomato chutney on white bread; and a piece of Quickes cheddar quiche with pickled walnut.

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Biting into each sandwich, I could tell that every ingredient had been chosen with care. The bread, the spreads, and the fillings all went together so well. My favorite sandwiches were the salmon and, surprisingly, the ham! Usually the ham sandwich is the throw-away that nobody cares about, but this one was fantastic. After finishing the first round, I was offered another plate of sandwiches, which I gladly accepted. I love that at most afternoon teas, you’re offered seconds.

The string duo played “Here Comes the Sun”, bits from the Harry Potter score, the theme from Goldfinger, and “Kiss From A Rose”, among other things. It was cool to hear so many songs I recognized being played live in a simple string arrangement.

At my server’s suggestion, I switched from green to black tea in preparation for the sweets. The scones at Claridge’s — one raisin and one plain — are smaller than I’m used to. They’re just the right size to stuff into your mouth alongside a plate of gorgeous pastries, on top of 2 plates of sandwiches.

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The pastries I had were a coconut frangipane tartlet with toasted meringue, pineapple & tonka; a hazelnut choux pastry with praline ganache, candied pink grapefruit & vanilla; a lemon & crème fraîche mousse with blueberry & violet; and a Kalingo chocolate brownie with raspberry cremeaux. None of the desserts were overly sweet, and each had subtly complex flavor and texture combinations. My favorite was the lemon mousse — it was covered in a granulated violet-flavored coating that went beautifully with its smooth insides.

I must have spent about 3 hours at Claridge’s. I relaxed, I read, I ate, and I had fun. No one rushed me out so they could give my table to someone else. I was left alone to enjoy myself, but never neglected. It was lovely. Without a doubt, I’ll be going back.

The Classic Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s is £55 per person, plus a 12.5% service charge. If you’d like to feel a little buzzy, there’s a Champagne Afternoon Tea option from £65 pp. And if you want to take your mini-me along, Claridge’s does an afternoon tea for children from £25 per child (which looks super cute).

Definitely treat yourself to afternoon tea at Claridge’s at least once. You deserve it.

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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!