california, here I come

If you know me in “real life” or if you’ve been paying the remotest amount of attention to Facebook, then you know that in a few short days, I will be moving to California.

To answer a few of the most basic questions: Yes, I am excited. I will be moving to Angels Camp, which is a very small town in Eastern Central California, a couple hours almost directly inland from San Francisco. I will be working for the whitewater rafting company called OARS, where I will be part of the reservations team and marketing department – in the most exciting development, I’m going to actually get paid to blog for them.

Once my seasonal position at OARS is complete, I will hopefully be attending Graduate School, location TBD. If Grad School does not happen this year, for whatever reason (cost, rejection, meteors), then I will be taking some supplemental classes, volunteering for the nearest Environmental organization I can find, and working full-time so as to not die under a mountain of high-cost living.

Also on the FAQ list:

  • Yes, I will be able to go on all the outdoor adventure and rafting trips I want. You are welcome to be jealous, but you’re also welcome to come visit, and I’ll see what I can do.
  • There is not a lot of dancing where I’m going – but I have a plan! More on that in the next couple of weeks over at the Lindy Affair.
  • Packing sucks. I’m trying to sell everything. Would you like to buy a bed stand for $10? It has a lamp attached!
  • I am driving out. First I will drive to NOLA, where I will stay with the lovely Kerry. Then I will drive to Houston, where I am working for the stellar event known as Lindy Fest, which is hosting the Lone Star Championships this year. From there, I will be proceeding to San Francisco – anyone have a place for me to stay between Texas and California?
  • I do not know the exact location where I will be living yet, though I am having a couple conversations with potential roommates and landlords. I will let you know when I know, and you are all welcome to send me “WELCOME TO YOUR NEW HOME” cards and care packages.

The most difficult thing I find, at the moment, is saying goodbye to all the amazing friends I have here in Atlanta. At Hot Jam, I was blessed to be individually approached by three newer members in our dance community and told of the impact I made in their dance. One lead told me, “Dancing with you makes me a better dancer.” I nearly cried. The bottom line is that I have taught a bunch of beginner’s classes at Hot Jam, and I’ve really enjoyed contributing to the Atlanta community; I will miss it. I’ve also worked hard as a volunteer and formed some pretty spectacular friendships with some pretty amazing people.

My official going away party will be Sunday the 10th, and if anyone needs the location or time, please let me know! In that vein, my last day in Atlanta is Monday the 11th, where I will be attending Hot Jam for the last time as a regular. I hope that everyone comes out – because honestly, you guys have made me into a better person.

I am sad to leave the community which has taught me to dance and supported me through life over the last few years. However, I am beyond excited to start the next phase of my life – one which will be full of learning, new friends, and adventure. Such great adventure.

California is soon to be my new home. So here’s some Joni Mitchell for you, ‘cause it’s on my playlist on my phone, and it makes me excited every time I hear it.

cooking for friends: a new adventure

On Sunday night, I cooked for some friends who were in town for Enter the Blues. This is the last big event for which I’ll be in Atlanta (more on that in the near future), and I wanted to spend some quality time with friends. Since I’m not a huge lover of Blues, that means convincing my friends to hang out with me — and what better way than to feed them? They have to take the time to eat, they also get to hang out with some good friends, and I get to monopolize their time for myself. Winning all around.

Cooking for a lot of people is…interesting. But it’s not nearly as scary as I thought it would be! I’m also less terrified of “messing up” with recipes now — because I definitely did not follow the recipe exactly, and it turned out delicious.

The biggest issue I ran into is that it was way spicier than I expected — but that means I’ll just tone down the red pepper next time (it should be stated that I have a really bland palate, so almost everything is too spicy…).

Delicious. And hearty! And filling! And fresh!

Delicious. And hearty! And filling! And fresh!

The recipe I made can be found here. And yes. It is delicious.

the reluctant feminist

I have never really been a feminist, and I don’t think I ever will be one as it is commonly defined. I believe in women’s rights: I am pro-choice, I believe in equality in the workforce, and I think rape is a real thing. But I do not loudly fight for these rights, as I prefer a peaceful life for myself. All the other feminists probably scoff at me, and I don’t blame them. I do not educate myself on the challenges women face in life, and I choose not to get angry at potential injustices that even I face on a daily basis.

It could be that I just have a bad perception of feminism. I see so many feminists loudly rail against perceived injustices,* which I don’t see as a big issue. For example, I don’t think it’s a big deal in swing dance when teachers use the terms “guys” and “girls” for leads and follows. In fact, I absolutely love leading, and I often take a class as a female lead – but I have no need for the teachers to change how they speak. When they say, “Guys, rock step on your left foot,” I know they’re including me, and that’s fine.

I don’t want to be a loud, abrasive, ball-breaking feminist. I don’t want to have to fight for my rights in the working world. I don’t want to fight over wage inequality, because in reality, we all make more than we need anyway. I don’t want to have to become ruthless, argumentative, or easily offended for my gender to get forward in the working world. In all honesty, I would love being a part-time housewife.** But I do understand why other women get angry. And this week, I have been tempted to change my ways and begin railing against the injustices of sexist discrimination in the workplace.

I’ll keep the story short. An male acquaintance of mine has terrible work ethic, is too lazy to network, and refuses to job hunt as long as he is able to scrape along and pay his bills; however, he has been handed two – not one, but two – jobs without any effort. He did not network, he did not apply for the jobs, and he did not even have to interview. He is now paid more working part time for twenty hours a week than I make working full time.

On the other hand, I have been struggling as a temp while actively job hunting for two years, both in low-skill jobs at a basic wage, and in moderately-well-paying, entry-level jobs for which I am actually qualified through my major in college. Even my goal in graduate school is to advance my degree to a place where I am more than qualified for the environmental science jobs to which I will apply, so that I will actually get the job and not be poor all my life. Only recently have I had a modicum of success, but only for a seasonal position (which is actually convenient, but that’s not the point), and only through some incredible family networking. My job search has been the opposite of his, and the only moderately satisfying explanation I can find is sexism.

I’m honestly happy for my acquaintance, who is excited about the new job he is working. But I am upset that I have had such a difficult time finding work, while he has been handed two jobs. His work ethic includes a lot of Facebook and TV on Hulu, and I honestly think that his terrible work ethic is looked over at least in part due to his gender. At the same time, he has been handed jobs with no effort on his part – and again, the only thing I can see is gender. It is true that I probably don’t know the whole situation – but it stands that gender has likely played a role in both his and my job hunt.

Here’s the bottom line: believing that men have such an advantage in the work place makes me upset. I don’t want to depend in a sexist explanation, because it takes away my personal culpability and capability in my job search, and I believe both of those facets are important for success, both inside and outside the working world.

In the realm of culpability, I know that sometimes, I slack off – I go through phases where I don’t submit as many applications, and I haven’t tried to advance my environmental resume since I graduated. I avoid serious networking because I am an introvert, and it makes me uncomfortable. In those areas, I could improve, and blaming a lack of personal competency on men’s advantage through gender is avoiding the acknowledgement of my own very real flaws.

As for capability, blaming workplace inequalities on discrimination against women takes away my ability to rise above those inequalities by the simple reality of hard work, extreme competency, and good work relationships. I am qualified, and I generally believe I can get the job if I try hard enough (where legitimate networking will always give someone else the leg up, regardless of qualifications). But to assume that a man will get the position before me nine times out of ten is to give up my dreams of getting the job before submitting my application. This becomes a defeatist, self-fulfilling prophecy which I can forever blame on men, despite a lack of faith that I can even be equal in the eyes of my interviewer.

Strangely, the most upsetting part of this story is the reaction I received when I idiotically posted my feelings on Facebook. I posted a brief and vague feminist status expressing my frustration, along the lines of “I have never believed in being a raging feminist against perceived injustices, but today I am considering changing my mind.” The reactions I received ranged from those who were angrier than I felt to those who were dismissive of the possible discrimination I have seen in my personal job hunt. I was shocked: both reactions were so extreme that I felt uncomfortable expressing my moderate feminist feelings. I was told that I was either underreacting or overreacting, and that’s absurd – I feel how I feel, and that should be the end of the discussion.

So here’s the conclusion: I don’t think that sexism in the workplace is okay. But I do have faith that this person will one day get his ass handed to him when he has a boss that sees straight, and that will be a good day for the rest of the world. I also have to believe that I will one day succeed in the working world, no matter my age, gender, or beliefs – because I don’t want to live in a world where working hard and being awesome isn’t enough. I might be naive, but I am only a reluctant feminist.

***

*“Perceived injustices”: I believe that many loud feminists rail against acts which can potentially be explained as coincidence or misinterpretation – or even a poor choice of words in the heat of the moment. I do not believe that all men are out to get us, and I believe that constantly acting like they are will only serve to hurt us in the long run.

**Part-time because I believe in productivity, and I would find a way to contribute, no matter what. Anyways, a housewife has one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and I’d be awesome at it. My mom was a part-time housewife, and my brother and I have always appreciated the love and effort and support she put into our lives.

the monster which eats my self-motivation

I have a challenge. It’s called “Self-Motivation.”

Recently, I have been dealing with a moderate amount of stress. My day-to-day existence is great – but there’s constantly a scary monster lurking behind me, whispering: “FUTURE? WHAT FUTURE DO YOU HAVE?” This stress eats my self-motivation for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks.

For example, you may have heard that I’ve applied to Grad School. If you’re paying attention, you’ll also remember that I won’t find out any results until March – and considering I really only applied to three schools, there is a good chance all those results will be negative. My reasoning for only choosing three schools is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, I know I really, really like those programs. On the other, they could all say no – and that’s the headspace I often inhabit.

Part of my challenge with motivation is that I lose focus of what I have accomplished in the light of all these stressful things which are looming over my head. So, a short list:

  • I have a blog dedicated to lindy hop, and it’s holding its own. You should check it out!
  • I can do 28 consecutive push-ups, which is over halfway to being able to do 50 consecutive push-ups, which is my personal base goal for the Hundred Push-up Challenge. Everything after that is icing in the cake.
  • I saved about $100 since January 1st since eliminating snacks from vending machines (and gas stations, small boutiques, and wherever else you generally buy overpriced snacks). Also known as, I’m a badass.
  • I have learned three new hair styles (a classy bun, a twisted and messy chignon, and an alternative braid) and one new hair technique (for French twists!) this February. No, I have not really posted them for everyone to see – but I know I’ve done it, and they’re awesome.
  • I cooked a brand new meal with the help of an awesome person. It was delicious, and I got to share it with some close friends.
  • I have been working on leading, and I had a Really Exciting Moment where I daydreamed a new move in the shower – and it worked in real life, too.

Things I need to buckle down on:

  • Reading. I have written down every book I’ve read since I was 11, and this is the first time I haven’t written a book down for the entire month of January. I cannot express my sadness at this fact.
  • Exercising. I still can’t run, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do push-ups, pull-ups, squats, crunches, and everything in-between.
  • I need to make more money. Not want; need.

I know that all I need to do is say “Suck it up,” buckle down, and take care of all these things which I want to accomplish. They are things I want, so what’s the issue? So, what I need is a new motivational tool. And it would really help if this motivational tool encouraged me to do push-ups.

floweruary, BLIP, and trying new hair styles!

Much like No-Shave-November, the month of February is host to a charitable awareness movement known as Floweruary, where guys and gals spend some time raising awareness and money to benefit a charity — with feminine flair.This year’s beneficiary is BLIP: Bringing Swing to Panama City and the Disabled. There are 11 more days to help this kickstarter, and if you have any interest in helping the disabled dance — well, you get the idea. Donate!

Sadly, while I love flowers, I have trouble convincing myself to wear one every single day. In exchange, I will be working to push myself to use hair styles I normally find too difficult or too outside my personal comfort zone of style. I have pinned a whole bunch of inspiring, beautiful, and difficult hair styles to pinterest. A bunch of the styles I have found inspiring are from The Beauty Department, which every girl should check out. It has absolutely the best hair tutorials I have come across. It’s also full of great beauty advice and adorable ideas.

The first two hair styles I did have gone great. The first hair style I tried was the twist-and-flip bun. I had tried this once with shorter hair, and it didn’t work very well; I am so happy it worked this time! I wore it to an art showing, and then out to a swing dance. It weathered the dancing particularly well! Sadly, I do not have any particularly great photos of that night.

The second I tried was a twisted chingon. The difficult part of this hair style was — gasp — no tutorial! However, it turned out so much better than I expected!

Tips for this look:

  • Tease. A lot. At least twice as much as you think you’ll need.
  • If you have layers, short hairs underneath, or bangs, a curling iron is your friend. I curled my bangs so that they would stay all night, without pinning or my constant frustration.
  • I did this on dirty hair (I didn’t wash it this morning), so dry shampoo was my friend for both volume and de-shiny-fying my roots.

And now the best part. Pictures!

  frontsidebackOver the past two years, I have learned an incredible amount about styling my hair, and it’s been an eye-opening experience. This month, I hope to push that further!

 

toshl: expense tracker makes budgeting easier

In the world of financial tracking apps and websites, Mint is the most well-known and most-used. However, it hasn’t worked for me. The two main reasons I dislike Mint are that (1) detailed personal banking information is necessary, which is just creepy, and (2), it wasn’t useful as a tool for budgeting and managing my expenses. In addition, I disliked the app for iPhone, which is clunky and often difficult to navigate.

The last time I wrote about Toshl vs. Mint, I had only been using Toshl for a few short weeks. Now, after nearly a year of use, I can definitively say it is the best and most used app on my phone. It has changed the way I manage my money, and I have seen significant improvement in my finances as a result.

There are two versions of Toshl: the free one, which is extremely limited, and the paid one, which requires a $20 yearly membership. I avoid purchasing apps, because they usually aren’t worth the expense; Toshl is the one app I have never regretted purchasing. Here are the top three reasons to fork out that money — or at least give the free version a try!

toshl is awesome1. The app rocks.

The first thing I noticed is that the app runs significantly better on my phone, and it tends to be more intuitive. I enter every expense personally, which means that each expense is immediately categorized correctly.

There are four main tabs: Expenses, Incomes, Sum Up, and Budgets. I won’t explain how the app works, but there are some key points. The first is that every expense and income requires a tag (you create as many or as few tags as you like), which places it in a category. It is easy, on the respective tags, to see where your money goes, and where it comes from. It is also easy to see a summary of expenses by day, which allows you to track your daily spending habits.

Second, the budgets tab allows you to enter as many different budgets as you need; as you create the budget, you can choose which tag(s) take money out of the budget. The main budget screen tells you how much is left in each budget, as well as where you have over-spent. It’s a great visualization tool for what you’re spending!

2. The analysis tools are great!

Toshl has all the analysis tools that I liked on Mint: graphs to show the trends in my spending, when I was over budget and when I was under, and when my income exceeded my expenses. A quick trip online allows me to view all this information easily, with clean, simple, and useful graphs. I love clean, simple, and useful graphs.

My favorite graph, in fact, is the “Sum Up” tab. It provides analysis of your current earnings and expenses in comparison to previous months, and it’s a great reminder that I should be attempting to spend less than I make every month. While I’m not always successful (Christmas is difficult!), I am more successful now than ever.

3. Toshl reminds me that spending money should hurt

Another reason I love Toshl is that it requires me to enter every expense on my own. One of the most notable disadvantages to debit cards is that it is often too easy to swipe a card without realizing how the expenses add up; the pain of separating from cash is reduced, and it’s easy to spend more than you intend. Using Toshl reinstates that pain, requiring that I acknowledge how much I am spending. It reminds me that every coke and snack and miscellaneous expense adds up. As a result, I weigh each purchase carefully against past and future expenses. Do I really need that coke when I’ve already spent $20 on snacks and drinks over the last week?

The pain of entering expenses into Toshl makes it a useful tool, in world of debit cards, for keeping to my budget. Every purchase I make is immediately visible against my budget, and I consequently make fewer unnecessary purchases. It is a constant reminder to spend less, and it has helped more than any other budgeting tool I’ve tried.

A miscellaneous note is that I am able to keep better track of my cash purchases, which is not easily recorded through Mint.

Toshl is for Budgeting; Mint is for Overall Financial Management

Toshl and Mint are different beasts. Mint’s greatest advantage is that it provides a mostly-up-to-date view of your bank accounts and loans, and thus your overall net worth. Mint is also useful if detailed information about certain expenses is necessary for taxes, or if you have more loans and accounts than you can easily keep track of in your head. If that works for you, or if you need that security, then great.

On the other hand, Toshl’s purpose as an app is not to give you a snapshot of your total net worth against your total debt; in my opinion, that is your responsibility. Toshl’s purpose is as a budgeting app. In this way, the month-to-month summary is the most useful, as it encourages you to spend less than you make every single month. And after all, that’s the only real way to save money.

learning to love food, and learning to cook

This is a pretty personal post, which I am hesitant to share with the world. Ever since I was little, I have been picky. I’m not talking about your child who refuses to eat broccoli or sushi. I’m talking about your child who refuses to eat hamburgers, steak, lasagna, salsa, pesto sauce, avocado, spinach, pepperoni pizza, hot pockets, tater-tots. All sandwiches excluding grilled cheese and PB&J. Oh, and anything refrigerated and microwaved scares me.

You get the idea. To make things worse, I am only just now growing out of my “picky phase.” From the list above, I now eat steak, avocado, pesto sauce, and spinach (all within the last three years).

My pickiness stems from an extreme aversion to the actual act of trying new foods. The act of trying it turns my stomach upside down, causes me to break out in a sweat, and makes me want to start crying – but once I’ve tried the food, I often find it enjoyable and come back to it again and again. I have trouble convincing myself, though, that this is true for nearly all foods, and thus trying foods should not be as emotionally terrifying as it actually is.

Over the past few years, I have learned a few triggers which make trying new foods more difficult. For the most part, as soon as someone has pointed out that I am trying a new food and comments on the novelty of such an event, my stomach seizes up and I put the fork down. I’ll go back to my plain pasta in butter sauce, or my chicken fingers, or a grilled cheese sandwich: anything plain, familiar, and comfortable. This means, sadly, that it is particularly difficult to try new foods around my family, who have struggled against my pickiness since I was a young girl, from keeping me at the table until I finished every bite on my plate (I starved instead) to bribes (upwards of $100). If it’s a big deal, I won’t – can’t – try it.

Conversely, I have learned a few situations where I find trying new foods less stressful. These situations tend to be with people I don’t know, or people who aren’t familiar with my pickiness. There are two ideal examples: when a cute boy cooks for me, or dinner parties with a group of friends. In both cases, the stress still threatens to overwhelm my senses – but it is outweighed by the stress and embarrassment of turning down the food.

Now, however, I am coming to a new phase in my life: I want to cook for myself, so that I am able to eat a variety of meals without eating out every night. This requires two things: 1) learning how to recognize recipes I would like, and 2) learning to cook.

Over the past two years of eating with cute boys and groups of friends, I have become more comfortable with the first requirement. When I look through cookbooks, I can now pick out enough recipes which sound interesting that would justify purchasing the book. I have also learned enough about online recipe websites which will allow me to cook a variety of tasty meals.

However, the second requirement is almost as overwhelmingly terrifying as the act of trying new foods on thanksgiving up on a stage, with my entire family in the audience and encouraging and commenting and judging…

The challenge comes, I think, in that I am unfamiliar with kitchens. I was so picky when I was young that I avoided any and all cooking lessons from my mother (sorry Mom!). Now, I am lost in the kitchen. I can make pasta and I can scramble some eggs. If I’m pressed, I can grill up some chicken (and maybe bake it?). But that’s literally the extent of what I can do.  For example, I understand the concept of making a grilled cheese sandwich, but it still scares me to actually get out the frying pan, butter, bread, and cheese… Because honestly, I don’t know how all of this works!

To learn to cook, I now have two cookbooks – one, a hefty conglomeration of a variety of recipes with pretty pictures; however, it assumes a basic amount of cooking knowledge, which is not true in my case. The other is Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food, which is almost entirely devoid of pictures, but places an emphasis on teaching how to cook. It doesn’t say “sear the steak,” but rather, “this is how you sear something; now try it with steak!” It also explains the science behind cooking, as in “this is why searing works!” As a scientific person, I trust a person’s explanation so much more when they explain the science in addition to the process – and Alton Brown is very colloquially scientific in his book, allowing him to appeal to both the scientist and the layman.

One of my goals this year is to learn to cook for myself. My end goal is to start a personal cookbook – an accumulation of recipes that I have learned to cook, tried, and enjoyed. It will include a section for each of the following:

  • Vetted recipes for when I’m looking for something tasty to eat on a whim (or to make for a group of people, etc.)
  • Recipes I have yet to eat or make, as well as recipes I have eaten but yet to make myself
  • A list of recipes with similar ingredients, to make the grocery shopping easier
  • A weekly recipe planner

Additionally, I am donating the large number of chicken breasts I have accumulated to a friend for Thursday Night Dinner (TND), as I probably won’t be able to finish them before I move. TND is hosted by an awesome friend of mine who just enjoys cooking and company; as such, she cooks the main course every week, and everyone else brings the drinks, sides, and desserts. In exchange for the chicken breasts, my friend will teach me to make the meal she is going to serve, so that I might be able to make it for myself in the future.

I have been picky all my life, and while I’m starting to get over it, it still gets in the way. I think learning to cook is the last step in getting over this stubborn childhood fear of food. We’ll see how it goes.