A couple weekends ago I went apple picking, so on this foodie Friday, I’m posting about my double apple crisp challenge. We filled a bag with 1/3 gala apples (for eating), 1/3 Cortland apples and 1/3 honeycrisp apples, with the intention of making 2 different apple crisps. However, after tasting some delicious peach cobbler my friend made from store bought crisp/cobbler mix, I decided I wanted to do an experiment instead. Which is tastier: store-bought mix or homemade mix? Is homemade worth the extra effort?
In the red corner is the store-bought apple crisp
Simple enough: 3 quick ingredients.
In the blue corner, home made apple crisp!
I used this recipe, which was still labeled “simple”. Definitely not too difficult, but compared to the box it was still a fair amount of work (especially since I had to grind my own cinnamon since I forgot to buy some at the store). The only alteration I made was to slightly reduce the amount of sugar due to a comment saying it was much too sweet. As you’ll see later, I probably should have left it the way it was.
After peeling, cutting and baking for most of the day, what’s the verdict? Well, I’m tempted to give them a tie. I did a blind taste test with my boyfriend, who thought the store-bought one was actually the home-made one because it was crunchier and sweeter. He liked both of them, but he told me couldn’t decide which one was better. (I think he actually liked the store-bought one better but didn’t want to belittle my work in the kitchen, which is arguably a smart move on his part 😉 ). For me, I think I liked the home-made one better because it had a more substantial crust, but I did have to agree that the store-bought one was crunchier and sweeter.
Due to the fact that the store-bought one really was significantly easier, I think I have to give it a win. If you’re short on time, you can’t go wrong with at least this brand (Concord Farms) of boxed apple crisp mix.
That being said, I must say that I prefer to make things homemade and think that I would probably be more likely to make the homemade version (but maybe leave it in the oven longer and be less stingy on the sugar).
What about you? Do you prefer homemade or boxed mixes when you bake?
For this Miscellaneous Monday, I want to share my first homemade cleaner experience.
Recently a few friends of mine have been telling me that they’re using homemade cleaners for all different kinds of things, but other than using baking soda and vinegar to clean up grease (which only worked marginally well), I’d never really had the energy to try one out, until now.
A while ago, I stumbled upon this recipe for homemade glass cleaner, which sparked my curiosity. I don’t use glass cleaner very often (who cleans their windows these days, anyway?), but I noticed my mirrors were getting a bit dusty, and I finally decided to try it out. With only a few (relatively) common household objects, you can make a powerful glass cleaner just as good as the commercial ones, at a fraction of the cost. Of course, in my case I have to take the “low” cost with a grain of salt, since I don’t really use corn starch or essential oil for anything else, so I’ll have to make a LOT of glass cleaner to make it worth it. But I like that I know exactly what’s in it, and now that I have all the ingredients, I won’t have to buy glass cleaner for a very long time.
So, if you don’t want to follow the recipe on the link provided, I’ll reproduce it for you here. I’ve halved it to fit in my smaller spray bottle, but feel free to double or triple it for your needs:
- 1/8 cup vinegar
- 1/8 cup isopropyl rubbing alcohol
- 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 cup water
- 4-5 drops of essential oil (I chose lemon: but you can use any scent you want, or none at all)
And that’s it! Mix it up in a spray bottle, and voila! I tried it out on my mirrors and it works GREAT. The cornstarch makes it cloudy in the bottle, which was a bit of a concern to me, but it didn’t cause any problems on the mirrors. According to my research, the cornstarch makes it less streaky, and I was amazed to see that indeed there were no streaks and also no residue.
So I’m hoping that the success of my first foray into the world of homemade cleaners will lead me to try out others! My friend has already recommended me some recipes for homemade laundry detergent and dishwasher powder, so hopefully I’ll get around to making those in the near future, and I’ll let you know how it goes!
What homemade cleaners or cleaning hacks have you tried? Were they successful?
Warning: this post contains a lot of personal information, and it may change your opinion of me. I usually try to stay away from posts this personal, but I feel the need to clear the air.
This Spiritual Sunday, I need to get something off my chest because I feel like I’ve been deceiving myself and other people for too long. I need to be honest with you. I’m not who I once was.
For those of you who have met me recently, let me give a quick rundown of who I used to be. I grew up in rural Virginia immersed in Christian culture, and I went on to study at Gordon College, a Christian school in Massachusetts. I was the star Christian, participating in every church event, memorizing large parts of the Bible, going on mission trips to Mexico, serving the poor and the disenfranchised, and always trying to please my pastors, teachers and professors at my church, Christian high school and college.
For those of you who knew me in the past and haven’t seen me a lot recently, let me also give you a quick rundown of who I am now. I live with my boyfriend and see absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don’t go to church anymore partially because when I moved in with my boyfriend, I couldn’t find a church that would accept me without the stigma. But another large reason is that the words from the pulpit or songs from the pews didn’t resonate with me anymore. Although I still find the religious and spiritual experience to be very familiar due to my upbringing, I’ve recently experienced it as something strangely foreign because I’m finding it harder to believe that the God they’re singing to, serving, and worshipping even exists.
So how did that disconnect happen?
It didn’t happen overnight, that’s for sure. It began with doubts, then came confusion, frustration, and more doubts. Slow changes in my perception of what “real” Christianity was eventually led me to realize that what I’d come to believe wasn’t Christianity at all. Finally, after much agonizing, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need to continue to label myself as such.
Most importantly, I read the Bible. Really read it. And I started to think that this God of the Bible wasn’t really such a great one after all. Mass genocides, favoritism of the Jews, homophobia, xenophobia, condoning of slavery, and the plan to eternally torture the very creatures he’d created if they didn’t follow him or even if they just didn’t have the privilege of being born in a place where it was convenient to follow him – these are just some of the things that made me uncomfortable. Luckily, many Christians feel the same discomfort, but I started to see through most of their ad hoc solutions to these problems. None of these explanations really satisfied me, and I started to become embarrassed of these problems. This made me hesitant to share with friends outside the Christian bubble that I actually believed in this religion with all these unanswerable problems.
I met a friend at church who gave me some really good insight into many of these problems. He’d studied Old Testament Biblical history and was able to give me a lot of honest, historically accurate answers about the Old Testament. I started to realize that if we treat the Bible as what it is: a work of ancient literature, many of the problems disappear. I was finally able to become comfortable with the Old Testament, recognizing that most of the genocide didn’t happen, and the writers were fallible humans writing within certain ancient literary genres. This take of the Old Testament was heresy according to some Christians, but it made sense to me, and I thought this brand of Christianity was one I could honestly, unashamedly follow.
It wasn’t until recently that I started to apply those same critical thinking skills to the New Testament. I’d always been told that it was written at the same time or almost the same time as when Jesus was alive. However, trusted archaeological and historical methods show that of the 4 gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) only Mark was written early enough that many people who’d met Jesus would have been still alive. In Mark, Jesus was always telling people to stay quiet about his miracles. And the earliest manuscripts of Mark don’t even include the resurrection. The later in history that the gospels were written, the more bold the claims become. Jesus performs more miracles, is born of a virgin, and is resurrected. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from that, but for me it was the turning point, the straw to break the camels back, so to speak. Although I still think that many of the words of Christ as written in the gospel accounts are good life principles, I have started to see that you can follow these life principles without being tied to a religion with as much baggage as Christianity.
All historical arguments aside, I want to bring up the fact that when you ask most people why they’ve chosen a religion or chosen to stay in a religion, near the top of the list will be the community that they experience. I’ll admit that this was the hardest thing for me to let go. Being a part of a huge religion like Christianity means that it’s easy to find people to support you no matter where you go. When I moved to Massachusetts, I joined a church, and I found some great people who treated me like a daughter. When I went to Spain, I joined a church group, and it helped me a lot to have a group of people who accepted me and were kind to me even though I was a stranger and a foreigner.
The unfortunate thing about this community, however, is that if you start to deviate from the norm, they often reject you. Even if they don’t reject you, you may find it hard to coexist with them. This happened to me when I started to change my mind about issues of homosexuality, abstinence, and related issues. Some people rejected me, and others became unbearable to be around. I had a nice Christian man tell me that he found it appalling that some churches were openly accepting to gay Christians. I found it hard to be around him after that. My pastor told an unmarried woman that she was not allowed to work with the teenagers anymore because she was pregnant. I eventually left the church because of that. I’ve read many posts from Christian facebook friends saying terribly hurtful things about women who have abortions. Many of those friends I’ve decided to remove from my friend list. And the list could go on.
This is already a very long post, so let me sum everything up, I consider myself a skeptic, an agnostic leaning towards atheism. I no longer think that it’s necessary to believe in the existence of a creator to have a fulfilled life as a decent human being, treating others the way you’d want to be treated and withholding judgement when you don’t understand the whole situation.
One of my first posts on this blog was about religion, and it was while I was in the midst of my confusion and doubts. This is the motto I decided to adopt: “everyone should free to believe what they want to believe, and everyone should try to respect, understand, and love each other.” I still hold to that 100%.
I want to be clear that I don’t harbor any ill-will against Christianity or Christians, or followers of any other religion. Having grown up among them, I know that most Christians are just trying to do what they think is right. I’m not trying to de-convert anyone. I just want to be honest about who I am now.
I know that many people who read this may be Christians, and I hope that I haven’t said anything to offend or hurt you. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.
So I know it’s technically Sunday, but I’ve already got a Spiritual Sunday post queued up for later today, and it’s quite serious and personal, so I decided I wanted to post something a bit more light-hearted beforehand. It’s the weekend, so the days don’t really start until about 3 am, right? 😉
So for today’s Speakable Saturday, I want to share a list of a couple of things I wish I could have told myself when I first started teaching English as a foreign language.
It’s starting to dawn on me that in 2 weeks I’ll be switching gears and taking up a more administrative position, although I will eventually be teaching again in mid-September. It’s only been about a year since I started teaching “full time”, but it feels like ages since I began that first day of TEFL class in May 2014, and even longer since I first taught a conversation class back in September 2013.
There’ve been good times and bad, but overall I’m glad to have been privileged to meet so many great people (who far outnumber the less-than-great people I’ve also come into contact with).
So, without further ado, here are some things I’ve picked up along the way, helpful tidbits that I wish I could have told myself from the beginning:
- Don’t get too attached: Even if you stay with the same school or same location for a long time, the reality is that people change schools, change companies, and move to new places. Their lives get busy or their situations change. The same applies to the teachers. I think the longest I was ever with a student was 8 months, and saying goodbye was hard! Even if I’ve only known a student a few weeks or months, if I’ve really developed a connection with them, it’s hard to move on.
- Get too attached anyway: Contradictory, I know, but honestly some of my greatest moments as an ESL teacher were times when I wasn’t really teaching anything, but learning about my students. Hearing about their lives, their points of views, their experiences, and their stories is really why I do what I do. Sure it’s fun to see their faces light up when they finally get a grammar point correct on the first try or remember a new word, but I find more joy in hearing about their first date with what became their wife, the feeling of pride they had when their daughter learned to snowboard, or their stories about cultural clashes when traveling. The best thing about teaching is connecting with people.
- Use lots of pictures: The best thing about the school I’m teaching at now is the smartboard which connects directly to the internet. Tangible items are easy to just use google images and then suddenly everyone understands.
- Beware of google images: Sometimes it doesn’t work, though. Try typing in “jigsaw” or “gosling” or “crank” or “pitbull”, and you won’t get the word that you think you’re getting. 😛
- Get the students to answer their classmates’ questions: At first they’re almost always confused.. “Wait, I asked you. Why can’t you answer me?!” But if you’re lucky, another student will know it. Even if you’re not lucky, at least it gives you an extra second to think about how to answer the question.
- Perfect your walking dictionary skills: Quick: define “motivation”! Or “referral”! Or “obtuse”! Or what’s the difference between “consequently” and “therefore”? Wait, I thought you spoke English; why is it taking you so long to answer? Despite my temporary lapses after sudden difficult questions, sometimes I surprise myself at how closely my definitions have matched that of an actual dictionary definition. Walking dictionary for the win!
- Be willing to act like a fool: Especially with lower-level students, sometimes words don’t work to explain concepts, so the only thing I can do is use gestures, make weird expressions, and draw pictures. My students nearly always laugh at all of these, but if I’m laughing with them, it’s all in good fun.
- Don’t take it too seriously: Lessons flop. Students get confused. Things don’t go as planned. The world has yet to fall apart, my students always speak at least some English, and I haven’t been fired. Accepting less than perfection is hard for me, but it’s a necessity when it comes to teaching. Curveballs always happen, but in the end, you can only do the best you can.
- Stay late in the classroom: I think my best conversations with students (at least at the language school in the US) have been after class, when the best and brightest students usually come to ask their questions, sometimes about English, but sometimes just about life. I don’t get paid to stay in the room after class is officially over, but it’s usually more rewarding than the actual class time, both for the students and for the teachers.
- Take time for yourself: On the other hand, it’s important to realize that teaching English is exhausting work! Not only do you have to decipher their words for content, but you have to scrutinize it for errors and remember to tell them about it (so they can just keep making the same mistake 20 more times). After a long day of teaching, sometimes I just don’t want to talk for an hour or two, and that’s OK. Especially in Prague when most of my day was spent talking to people who weren’t native speakers of English, if I didn’t take time to remember how to actually speak English, I found myself using “Czenglish” words and phrases like “I like go to the nature.” Or “He [a woman] have a long hairs.” I no talk good English when I with my students whole day.
I’m certainly going to miss teaching in Boston, but I’m looking forward to taking some time for myself, being involved in students’ lives without having to be conscious of their every word, and having some fun in the midst of it all.
What about you? If you’re a teacher, what things have you learned?
I must admit I’m not feeling particularly thoughtful on this Thoughtful Thursday. My life in the last few weeks has essentially been an extended drowning sensation where I’m fighting to keep my head above the water, which has left me less time than normal for mulling things over. I’ve gotten out of the habit of relaxing by writing and have instead resorted to podcasts, TV shows and movies for decompressing (when there’s even time for that).
I don’t want to make excuses, because I know having time to do the things I enjoy is just a matter of priorities. However, in all honesty, my job has been sucking the life out of me. Long commute + long (partially unpaid) hours + corralling bored teenagers 3 hours a day is not really the best combination for work satisfaction. So I’m happy to announce that I’ve accepted a position at a new company where (hopefully) I shouldn’t have any of those problems.
I was thinking the other day about my previous blog post about transitions, and how it’s kind of ironic that here I am, finally settled and (mostly) moved in, but now I’m just changing everything again. Maybe I’m just not meant for stability. Or maybe (hopefully?) this job will be my key to a bit more stable life. Wow, that’s asking a lot I guess. I’m hoping for the best though!
Apart from my job situation, the main thing I’ve been thinking about recently is, unfortunately, something I can’t really share on the internet. I’ve thought many times about how much I want to write about it, but I really need to talk to some people and continue mulling it over before I feel confident sharing it with the whole of cyberspace.
So, since I haven’t really shared much substance in this post, how about I finish off with a (completely unrelated) rant about fat shaming? That’s something I’m always thinking about in the summer time when people of all shapes and sizes are more likely to be wearing more revealing clothing and even (gasp!) bikinis.
As I had mentioned, I used to be a part of an online weight loss community. Technically I still am, but I’m not really following it right now. I regularly receive emails from them talking about techniques I can use to “torch fat” and “trim down” and all that blah blah blah. These emails regularly overgeneralize with unsupported claims sentencing overweight people to an early death, inevitable depression and social problems. Although I do feel like the program was beneficial to me, because the whole process helped me to gain confidence about my body, I think that confidence was almost in spite of the program instead of because of it. The diet and fitness industry is 100% concerned with making you feel that being fat is the worst thing in the world that could happen to you. Especially if you’re a woman. Why do we keep believing them when it’s obviously a way for them to make more money? Let’s be honest, diets fail. As of now, I’ve gained back at least half of the weight I lost when I was part of that community. Food is delicious; life is short. Why torture yourself?
I’m not advocating for unhealthy lifestyles, It’s perfectly possible to be both healthy and fat. Everyone has a different body type, and everyone has different priorities and goals. It’s simple though: if your life goal is looking ripped, don’t impose that on everyone else. Looks are superficial, and a lot of people just don’t see the end (looking like a model) justifying the means (eating disorders, starving yourself, bodily insecurity).
It makes me so upset to hear about stories of women going to the beach in bikinis and being criticized, just because the other people at the beach are uncomfortable looking at them. Maybe some of them were thinking, “How dare you show up in a bikini as you are when I had to work so hard starving myself to get to this place!”
I’ve got some extra weight on me, but I don’t care. I’m going to the beach in a bikini this summer. How about you?
Sorry to be cliche with the title, but I couldn’t help it. Welcome to the first official Miscellaneous Monday, and today’s topic is the beautiful, emotional wedding of my gorgeous best friend Christa. Warning, this one is more personal than any other post I’ve done so far.
I met Christa when we were in middle school, in a small town in Virginia. She was in all the same classes as me (not so surprising since there were less than 40 people in my grade), and our friendship really started when she started calling me almost every day asking for help with math homework. Fast forward a year or two and we were extremely close friends. Anyone who knew one of us knew the other. We did almost everything together, and we told each other things we’d never told anyone else. We were at each other’s side through everything that happened.
And then we went to college. In completely opposite directions. I went 10 hours northeast, to Massachusetts, and she went 10 hours southwest, to Tennessee. We went from seeing each other 6-7 days a week, to 6-7 days a year. And then we became more attached to our respective places, and that number went down to zero. Whenever we talked, we’d pour our hearts out as always, in increasingly concentrated doses as our conversations inevitably became more infrequent.
Time and distance brought us apart. But we never stopped being friends. When you know a person as well as we know each other, you don’t stop being friends. So when Christa told me she was getting married, I knew that I’d do everything in my power to see her, even if that meant traveling across an ocean (which it did, since I was in Prague at the time).
My boyfriend and I arrived in Tennessee a couple days before the wedding. I was able to go to Christa’s bachelorette party and stay over at her friends house with her and a few of her other friends. We had an amazing time reconnecting after so many years apart, and we still had that connection, even after so many years without seeing each other.
Before we knew it, the moment arrived. I’ve been to several weddings, but none were as emotional as this one was for me. I started tearing up the moment the doors opened and I saw her in the dress that was perfect for her, with the bouquet of origami flowers she’d spent hours creating, and that ever-present sparkle in her beautiful blue eyes. She had found a lifelong partner, and I could see it in her eyes that this was the best moment of her life. It’s indescribable how amazing and overwhelming it is to see someone you love in a moment of unspeakable joy. It was a long and frustrating journey to get to her wedding, but as soon as I saw her in all her bridal glory, I knew I’d made the right decision.
I’ll be honest, when Christa and I first met, we were among the least desirable in our school. I know that’s terribly self-deprecating to say, but we were part of the unpopular, nerdy, unfashionable crowd. In our many sleepovers, as girls are apt to do, we’d fantasize about one day being beautiful and having boyfriends that would become husbands. As I think about it now, it’s kind of sad that some of our greatest hopes were tied up both in our appearance and in our ability to find a suitable male partner. Now that I’m a feminist and I’m old enough to recognize male privilege and the unfair representation of women in the media, I can reflect on how sad that is.
Nevertheless, it’s good to have a partner. We’ve both grown up and developed hopes and dreams apart from having beauty and a male partner. But I still can’t help but enjoy the excitement of a wedding celebrating my best friend finding a person to love and be loved. Seeing how far she’s come as a successful, confident women, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with emotion.
So I want to dedicate this post to my best friend Christa, and her future as a strong, compassionate, sensitive woman. I’m glad I got to see you get married, and I can’t wait to see what happens next in your life! 🙂
Welcome to my first official post on “Spiritual Sunday”. For today’s post, I wanted to write about some things that I find really cool about the podcast “Oh No, Ross and Carrie!“.
A couple weeks ago, my friend recommended that I check out this podcast she’d been listening to. She said it was really interesting and that I would definitely like it. I was trying to convince myself that I’d start practicing Spanish by listening to an audiobook on the way to and from work, so I said I didn’t have time. But last week I finally realized, after falling asleep about 10 times while trying to listen to a silly romance novel in Spanish, that it was just wishful thinking.
So last Monday I downloaded the first few episodes (from 4 years ago), and started voraciously devouring the podcast during my hour-long commute to and from work. Needless to say, I’m hooked.
The idea of the podcast is that two friends, Ross and Carrie, try out new religions and alternative, pseudo-scientific methods, and then talk about them from a scientific perspective. Here’s their description:
“Welcome to Oh No, Ross and Carrie!, the show where we don’t just report on spirituality, fringe science and the paranormal (from a scientific, evidence-based standpoint), but dive right in by joining religions, attending spiritual events, undergoing “alternative” treatments, partaking in paranormal investigations, and more. At Oh No, Ross and Carrie!, we show up, so you don’t have to.”
(Personal aside) Despite being critical of the Christian church and many of its ills, I still believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. I think they contain a lot of good insights and advice to follow when living my life. However, I also consider myself a rationalist and a skeptic, and I’m extremely interested in other religions and alternative perspectives on life, health, and medicine. So I find “Oh no, Ross and Carrie!” to be a fascinating podcast, and definitely a way to stay awake while on the train to and from Boston.
Here’s why I like them so much:
- They enter into everything with an open mind. They are willing to change their perspectives on something if it really does work for them.
- At the same time, they are skeptical of everything, ask lots of good questions, and base their opinions of everything on its ability to measure up to reality.
- Their areas of investigation include a healthy mix of things I’ve heard about and wanted to test out, and also things that I’ve never heard of before, which gives me some insight into what things people believe in.
- It’s hilarious.
So I highly recommend you check them out! And if you do, let me know what you think in the comments section.
“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.”
I work at an International adult ESL school in Boston, so it goes without saying that I hear a LOT of different kinds of accents. Sometimes people from the same country have similar accents, sometimes they’re completely different. It’s interesting to me how much variation there can be, and yet how I can still understand all of them. Some of it comes with practice, I’m sure. New accents take more time for me to process, but eventually I get the hang of them. From what I’ve experienced, most people think having an accent in a foreign language is a bad thing. Sure, it can be cute or even attractive, but it’s instant proof that you’re a foreigner, and no one likes to be categorized so quickly.
I like this quote, though. It puts it into the right perspective. I’ll be the first to say that speaking a foreign language is hard. It’s intimidating and scary, and you have to make yourself vulnerable to do it. Consider that the next time you interact with someone who has a thick accent. Try imagining the amount of bravery you’d have to summon in order to speak their language if you’d studied it for a few weeks or months. Also, if you’re learning a foreign language, be inspired! Don’t take it personally if people don’t fully understand you. That means you’re showing bravery.
Hello my lovely readers,
I have to apologize for my lack of posts: to you, but mostly to myself. Here I am 5 months into this year and I’ve written hardly any posts (far less than the 44 I should have written by now to keep up with my silly new years resolution). Apart from being busy and uninspired, I haven’t written because I didn’t really know what the overall direction of this blog was. There’s no theme other than just random thoughts, and that’s about as demotivating as when a teacher asks students to write about anything.
So, in the hopes of inspiring me to write more, I’m changing all that. I had an idea this morning at 5:30 while cuddling in bed with my boyfriend who promptly fell asleep. (This is a sign that it’s a good idea, I’m convinced.) The idea is themed days. Each day has a catchy theme that I can write something related to. If I want to write about something not on my day I can easily queue it up for the relevant day, and if I know I want to write on any given day, I’ll have a lovely theme at my fingertips for inspiration.
So, here are the categories (courtesy of my strangely wide-awake 5:30AM mind):
- Spiritual Sunday – all things related to religion, spirituality, and skepticism
- Miscellaneous Monday – anything that doesn’t fit anywhere else
- Travel Tuesday – details on my travel adventures and hopes for new travels
- Wishful Wednesday – thoughts about where I wish the world or my life was going, or where I’m excited that it is going
- Thoughtful Thursday – thoughts about psychology, personality, and other mind-related topics
- Foodie Friday – anything related to healthy or delicious eating, and maybe some health and fitness thrown in
- Speakable Saturday – all about languages
I think my 5:30AM mind came up with some gems. 🙂
So, since today is Saturday, look for a brief Speakable Saturday tidbit coming soon!
Update: I went through all my old posts and tried to roughly categorize them into the new themed days. So while they weren’t all written on their designated day, it can give you an idea of what kind of stuff to expect on each day.