Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I was going to wait until I completed Challenge #12 (create a photo series) until I tackled Challenge #18 (get a photo or photos in a gallery and/or sell one of your photos). But I've been wanting to set up an Etsy shop for a while now, and I thought that it might be a good avenue to sell a photo or two.

Once I create a photo series, I'm still going to try to have them shown somewhere, but until then, the "or" part of Challenge #18 is the route I'm taking. My shop went live today on Etsy.com. It's called APERTURIOUS: A PHOTOGRAPHY SHOP. I still have to create a header, and more photographs might be added later, but at least we're up and running.

This isn't a cheap plug to get you to head on over to my Etsy shop. Most of you have probably seen these photos anyway. I'm hoping for a total stranger to come across something they like enough to frame and hang on their wall. Then I will consider the challenge officially met.

If anyone has an Etsy shop of their own and/or any advice to share, feel free to leave a comment or email me here.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Challenge #5 is officially in the works. For this challenge I must travel overseas, ride trains only, and put together a collection of photos titled "Window Seat."

And so, the boyfriend and I are officially headed to Italy in early April. Plane tickets have been purchased. Squealing has been heard. Gelato has been Googled.

Train ride one will be from Rome to Florence. Train ride two will go from Florence to Venice. We will also be traveling about an hour outside of Florence and staying in a countryside villa for a few nights. Just typing that gave me goosebumps.

And, thanks to Eddie Izzard, I think I have a pretty good idea of what Italy is all about:

If anyone has any tips on where to stay, what to do, what not to do, or what to eat, feel free to share in the comments below, or email me here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cupcake Extravaganza Part 4

My sweat has turned to buttercream. Here are my latest cupcake victims. Only seven more to go:

Day 17 (Jan 23, 2012): The Green Tea cupcake from Spot Dessert Bar

In my experience, when something is green tea flavored, it's gross. But this was delicious. Great texture, not too light nor too heavy, and the chocolate cake was lovely.

Day 18 (Jan 24, 2012): The Apple Crumble cupcake by Spot Dessert Bar

Aside from the bits of apple sprinkled on top, this was pretty much a vanilla cupcake with cream cheese frosting. Cake was a little too dense. Pretty much a "meh" across the board.

Day 19 (Jan 25, 2012): The Kissable cupcake by Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery

Finally, a New York City cupcake that doesn't cost $3.50 or more! I loved this place and this cupcake. The frosting was mint flavored, hence the "kissable" title. It tasted homemade.

Day 20 (Jan 26, 2012): The Vegan Peanut Butter cupcake by s'Nice

This one wins for moistest cake. Side note: I realize the word "moist" is gross. Moving on. Though moist, the cake had a weird flavor. Something was off, but I couldn't tell you why. Peanut butter icing was great though.

Day 21 (Jan 27, 2012): The Caramel cupcake by Magnolia Bakery

I've had cupcakes from Magnolia that didn't live up to the hype. This, however, was a solid cupcake. Maybe because if you pour caramel over anything, it will be delicious. But the cake part had a great flavor to it, which surprised me. I really wanted an excuse to talk bad about Magnolia. Does this mean I'm a true New Yorker?

Day 22 (Jan 28, 2012): The Banana cupcake with Maple Pecan icing by Butter Lane

Butter Lane has been a favorite of mine ever since I moved to NYC. They keep it simple and just get it right. You pick the type of cake you want (vanilla, chocolate or banana) and then your frosting. This cupcake I put together was awesome. It's a front-runner for best frosting. The banana cake was perfect, made with fresh bananas and not banana flavoring. This one and the pistachio cake from Pinisi will have to battle it out for the best cake award.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The M Saga Continued

My last two Reading Partners sessions with M have been so normal that I've stopped wearing my bulletproof vest. It's clear that she is smart but just easily distracted. My approach was to be as consistent and patient as possible, and it seems to be working.

If you're curious as to what happened with Victor, a fight did go down, both of them were sent home, but THEN! Then they became best friends. "I love Victor" was the last thing she said on the subject. Oh, the ups and downs of second grade. It's like elementary school Melrose Place.

Yesterday we reviewed some commonly used words: LIKE, SAID, YOU, GET, and WITH. I had her use each in a sentence, and this is what she came up with:

She didn't let me see the sentences until she was finished but occasionally asked for help spelling the more difficult words. So when I saw what she wrote I was blown away and, um, flattered? I can't wait to see what kind of dog I get.

And the hearts were a nice touch. We've gone from drawing dead people to hearts in a matter of weeks. So either we're making progress or she's bipolar.

All kidding aside, this was the first time where I actually felt like I was "making a difference." And it felt good. She was so PROUD of what she had written that it radiated from her. If I can make a kid feel like that, then I've done something worth while. I'm looking forward to next week.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Two Months In: Progress Report

I can't believe I'm only ten months away from turning thirty. The challenges in blue are the ones I've either started or am close to completing. The first official challenge I will be able to cross off the list as 100% done is the cupcake challenge. Is anyone surprised? 
  1. Do yoga three days a week.
  2. Give a stranger $100. Film it and post it on YouTube.
  3. Eat 29 cupcakes in 29 days and write a review of each. 
  4. Research and identify 10 procedural reforms that would help move congress and the executive office back to being a government of the people and for the people. Print these 10 reforms on handout cards and distribute to anyone and everyone you know. Post them on your Facebook page and website. 
  5. Travel overseas, ride trains only, and put together a collection of photos titled "Window Seat."
  6. Sit in silence and stillness each morning for 15 minutes before you start your day.
  7. Write and direct your own short film and submit it to a film festival.
  8. Spend one night in a women's shelter, make a connection and offer to take family portraits.
  9. Make and bottle your own wine. Save it for a future birthday.
  10. Lie down on your back in a NYC street and pretend to be a dead bug. 
  11. Write a sad story about a girl who gets the things she always wanted -- on your typewriter. 
  12. Make a conceptual photo series, preferably a book. 
  13. Your 27th and 28th years were characterized by massive life changes that included a move and job change; my challenge is make one more life change. I'm not going to define it, but some suggestions would be: take another step with Austin, get a friend for Dagmar, get involved with something you care about in an incredibly inconvenient capacity.
  14. Take flying lessons.
  15. Do 200 crunches and three 1-minute planks every other day. And assist your scared, almost-grad cousin in finding a job in Atlanta. 
  16. End every day by writing down one positive thing that happened in the previous 24 hours.
  17. Learn how to perform an authentic Japanese tea ceremony.
  18. Get a photo (or photos) into a gallery/showing AND/OR sell one of your photos.
  19. A year-long water challenge: Drink 1 liter of water per day, wade across a stream, swim across a pool, canoe across a lake or pond, and fly across an ocean. 
  20. Make and bring your lunch 2 out of 5 days a week.
  21. Manifest yourself in an act of humanitarianism that permanently and positively enriches the life of a child. The act may not be accomplished with direct financial, but must involve sacrifice of your time and attention.
  22. Research your Jewish heritage going back at least four generations. 
  23. Pay one compliment to a different person every day.
  24. Raise a basil plant and name it Kyle.
  25. Take an art class and create an original painting.
  26. Keep a Smash Book (scrapbook) for the year.
  27. Write words (the grouping of letters that hints of story and promise), even if it's only one line or thought or idea, in a momentary embrace of lapse of reason, everyday, and incorporate these words into a future novel.
  28. Learn to sew, design an outfit, make it, do a self-portrait in it.
  29. Attend 10 religious services. Record your impression of each.  
  30. Write the first chapter of your first novel and the outline. Submit to a publisher.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

They Grow Up So Fast

I did it! I gave birth to a living thing! Here's a peek at baby Kyle, the Italian basil plant, spawn of challenge #24. Kind of looks like someone cracked a joke at a tiny basil cocktail party:

Kyle at one week old.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Everyday Five

There are a handful of challenges that I must do every day. I thought I'd take a moment to talk about how they're going.

1. Sit in stillness and silence for fifteen minutes before you start your day.
Oh boy. This one is tough. I've already talked about it here, but I will say that it's getting a little better. I've implemented a new, embarrassingly cheesy approach: Each morning I pick a word and focus only on that one word during my fifteen minutes of meditation. The words thus far have been things like focus, patience, and energy. It felt a little too self-helpy for my taste at first, but I think it's really making a difference. The day I focused on the word energy, for example, I only thought about napping ten times as opposed to the usual twenty times.

2. Drink a liter of water.
Seems like no big deal for most people, but I do not like drinking water outside of a gym or hot yoga scenario. I think my mistake with this challenge is that I try and drink all the water at once to get it over with. Going to try and just drink consistently throughout the day. But through this challenge I have found my two favorite water brands:

3. Compliment someone.
I have noticed that most of my compliments are to women. It's easy just to say, "Oh, I love your shoes," or "Your hair looks fantastic." My goals for this challenge for the rest of the year are to compliment more strangers and compliment more men. I also want to try and dig a little deeper with the compliments. There's a difference between saying, "I like your jacket," (which is basically saying they did a good job of shopping) and "That jacket looks so good on you." And I know all of my examples are about someone's appearance, but that's pretty much what you're limited to when complimenting a stranger. I'm not really going to go up to someone on the subway and say, "You are such a generous person and you make the best chicken parmesan I've ever tasted." 

4. Record a positive thought before bed.
I love this challenge. It forces me to focus on the good no matter how angry I am at the world. I'm starting to realize that the beauty of life is in the details. Here are a few of my favorites so far:
Hearing "Mr. Jones" blaring from a NYC taxi.
Cuddling with Dagmar on a cold December night.
Seeing Austin after a week-long work separation.
Running over vibrant fallen leaves in Central Park before 8 a.m.
5. Write.
Having nearly completed the first chapter of my first novel, I can say that this challenge is doing wonders for my writing confidence. There are days when I only write a few words and other days when I look at the clock and realize it's 1 a.m. and I'm still writing. But there is also the constant struggle of hating everything I write, which other writers might understand. If only I had a few months all to myself on a private island...

Writers are also great at making excuses.

So there you have it, the five challenges I do every day. I'll be honest with you (and by you I mean me since I think I'm the only one that reads this blog) there have been days when I completely forget to do one of these five challenges. But if my goal for this year is perfection, then I should just throw myself off a bridge now.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cupcake Extravaganza Part 3

More cupcakes. Pretty sure I'm halfway to diabetes by now. Away we go:

 Day 11 (Jan 17, 2012): The Vegan Lemon Coconut cupcake from Lifethyme Natural Market

Featuring custom-made dessert plates inspired by this Eddie Izzard bit. I really enjoyed the burst of lemony flavor in this cupcake. The cake was a little boring and I could have done without the chewy coconut on top, but after so many chocolate and cream cheese cupcakes, lemon was quite refreshing.

 Day 12 (January 18, 2012): The Vegan Boston Cream Pie cupcake from Lifethyme Natural Market

Meh. I was expecting more. This ended up just being a tiny bit of cream in the middle of some dry, bland cake.

Day 13 (January 19, 2012): The Vegan Pumpkin cupcake from Lifethyme Natural Market

Cream cheese icing was light and flavorful, but the cake part was a little too dense.

Day 14 (January 20, 2012): The Peach Cobbler cupcake from Molly's Cupcakes

Everything you would want a cupcake called Peach Cobbler to be. Icing was whipped-cream-like (in fact, it might have been straight-up whipped cream), and the cake was moist and peachy. LOVE. Also would like to note that Molly's has the cutest interior of all the cupcake joints I've visited. Their bar seats look like swings; there's a wall of board games and an overall sense of whimsy.

Day 15 (January 21, 2012): The Cake Batter cupcake from Molly's Cupcakes

Another winner from Molly's. I had to get past the superfluous blue frosting to get to the amazingness inside. You guessed it: CAKE BATTER. Smother anything with cake batter and I'd probably eat it.

Day 16 (January 22, 2012): The Casablanca cupcake from Sweet Revenge

I had such high expectations for this one. Here's how it was described on the menu: a pistachio cardamom cake with rosewater buttercream. I was pretty excited. Then I took a bite. The cake itself had no pistachio or cardamom flavor whatsoever, although there were bits of actual pistachios mixed in, and it was too muffin-like in texture. The rosewater icing was nice and I could definitely pick up hints of rose, but it was WAY too sweet. Instant-stomach-ache sweet.

Cupcake Extravaganza Part 4 will be coming at the end of this week. If you're wondering if I'm getting sick of eating cupcakes, the answer is YES. Sorry, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. But I am having fun on my little cupcake crawl through New York City. I'm becoming quite the expert.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Do Rice Cakes and Peanut Butter Count as "Making" My Lunch?

Because that was my lunch. Re: Challenge #20.

If you're impressed by my culinary skills and think that you'd like to attempt this incredibly complex recipe, here are the things you'll need:
1. Rice cakes
2. Peanut butter
3. Knife or finger

1. Remove peanut butter from jar with knife or finger.
2. Spread on rice cake.
3. Indulge simultaneously in rice cake and self pity.

You could also just dunk the rice cake directly in the peanut butter, which I have totally never done before.

Speaking of peanut butter, there's this:

And this:

"If you can't control your peanut butter, you can't expect to control your life." -- Bill Watterson

Yeah. Think about THAT.

Great post, Noel.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Meet Kyle

Challenge #24 is to raise a basil plant and name it Kyle. Sounds easy, but keeping anything green alive is difficult for me. The Kyle seeds arrived a few days ago as part of a kit that also included the soil and container. I planted them yesterday and set future Kyle on a window sill that gets drenched in sunlight for the first half of the day. Not much to look at just yet, but hopefully in a few weeks we'll start seeing some greenery sprouting from the dirt.

I followed the directions on the kit in terms of planting, but it didn't tell me how often I should water it. Any green-thumbers out there know how often I should give Kyle a drink of water?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cupcake Extravaganza Part 2

Ten cupcakes down, nineteen to go. (For those of you just joining, I was challenged with eating 29 cupcakes in 29 days). Here are the last seven cupcakes that made their way into my belly. Just warning you that this probably counts as cupcake porn.

Day 4 (Jan 10, 2012): The Elvis cupcake from Crumbs

Anyone who has ever been to Crumbs in NYC knows that their cupcakes are ridiculously huge, almost to the point of being offensive. But they do not lack in interesting flavors. I loved the peanut butter, marshmallow, banana combination in this cupcake. It was a little too dense and rich, but I enjoyed it.

Day 5 (Jan 11, 2012): The White Chocolate Blueberry cupcake from Crumbs

Another from Crumbs. Just as dense, just as rich, just as offensively huge. But I love blueberry, and this cupcake didn't disappoint. It was like a blueberry muffin that got all dressed up and put on extra frosting for a big night out.

Day 6 (Jan 12, 2012): The Pistachio cupcake from Pinisi Cafe & Bakery

My top cupcake out of the first six. Clearly. I was down to one bite before I realized that I needed to take a picture. Perfect icing-to-cake ratio, a good size, simple and well done.

Day 7 (Jan 13, 2012): The Carrot cupcake from Pinisi Cafe & Bakery

Another from Pinisi. Can't go wrong with carrot cake and cream cheese frosting. 

Day 8 (Jan 14, 2012): The Red Velvet cupcake from Pinisi Cafe & Bakery

Third cupcake from Pinisi. A nice touch with the red velvet crumbly topping. Otherwise pretty straightforward.

Day 9 (Jan 15, 2012): The Vegan Black Bottom cupcake from Cocoa V (Blossom)

I had no idea what "black bottom" meant, but now I know it means "awesome." It's like they injected a cupcake with cream cheese cookie dough. Pretty incredible. Absolutely decadent.

Day 10 (Jan 16, 2012): The Vegan Chocolate Cupcake from Cocoa V (Blossom)

Hands down my favorite cupcake so far on this sugary journey. I know I said that about the pistachio cupcake above, but this one gets an extra point for being vegan and another point for presentation. I don't know what they make this icing out of, but I would like to cover myself in it. If you're vegan, this cupcake should be in your mouth right now.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The M Saga Part 2

Today I had my second tutoring session with M. Aware of her behavioral issues, the Reading Partners coordinator gave me the option of switching students, but I wasn't about to give up on M. Maybe I just saw her at her worst the first go-round. Maybe I'd get through to her and we would have a glorious semester of reading together. Or maybe I'd get stabbed by an eight-year-old.

This time I had to go retrieve her from her classroom. Before I even reached the room, I found her in the hall, about to beat the crap out of a little boy named Victor. As I was holding her arms back so she couldn't launch a full-blown attack, I paused to reflect on what another amazing tutoring experience I was having.

Finally I get M to walk away, but not before she warns Victor that she is "going to beat him up tomorrow at recess." I try to distract her with how fun reading is!

I'm good at this.

If you're curious as to what Victor did to ruffle M's feathers, apparently he "got into her business when he had no business getting into her business." Hey, that would drive anyone to violence, am I right? No one can blame her.

We get to the reading classroom. M is still angry over Victor and will. not. let. it. go.

Me: Pick a letter of the alphabet. 
M: V. 
Me: Great. Now I want you to write a word that starts with the letter V. 
M: Okay. 
She takes the marker board and holds it so that I can't see what she's writing. 
Me: If you're writing "Victor," you're not getting a star today. 
M: I'm not writing "Victor." 
Me: Okay, let's see your word. 
She turns the board around. She has written "Victor." 
Me: Really?

So after 1/4 of a lesson, one time-out, three pictures of dead Victor, and no gold star for the day, I say my goodbyes to M, walk outside and proceed to bash my head against the wall.

This better count as "an act of humanitarianism that permanently and positively enriches the life of a child." Stay tuned for next week's M adventure!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Breaking Challenge News!

Folks, there's been an exciting turn of events. One of my challengers has requested to change their challenge. According to the official challenge rules that I just made up, a challenge swap-out is allowed only if the following criteria are met:

1. The challenger initiates the change without an influence from the challenged.
2. The challenger submits an official change in writing.
3. The challenge being discarded has not yet been attempted or completed.

Since all three above were met, may I present to you the new challenge #25:

Get up every morning at the same time and get to bed at a reasonable time TAKE AN ART CLASS AND CREATE AN ORIGINAL PAINTING.

As to why this particular challenger decided to change their challenge, I cannot say for sure, but it sounded as if they felt that expressing myself through art would ultimately be a better life experience. I hope this doesn't make others want to change their challenges, especially since I have started almost half of them and look forward to the ones I haven't started yet.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

May the Cupcake Extravaganza Begin

Challenge #3 (eat 29 cupcakes in 29 days) involves extra time at the gym. But I don't care. Because I have an excuse to eat a bunch of cupcakes. Or is it a gaggle of cupcakes? A murder of cupcakes? That has a nice ring to it.

Here are my first three victims:

Day 1 (Jan 7, 2012): The Brownie cupcake from BabyCakes

 Day 2 (Jan 8, 2012): The Pumpkin Maple cupcake from BabyCakes

 Day 3 (Jan 9, 2012): The Red Velvet cupcake from La Delice Pastry Shop

So, BabyCakes. A well-known (sometimes worshiped) bakery among vegans. I myself have been known to let out a squeal or two at the thought of going down for a visit. It's a dairy-free, gluten-free, animal-parts-free, pirate-free bakery on the Lower East Side. And I hope the vegan police don't knock down my door when I say the following: Their cupcakes are kind of overrated. Okay, a lot overrated. I mean, they're decent, but I've had better. That being said, their cookies and biscuits and other baked goods are amazing. But let's focus on the cupcakes.

The icing on cupcakes #1 and #2 wasn't bad, but it leaves a weird film on the tongue. Like I'm eating putty. The cake part of the brownie cupcake tasted like a brownie. It was yummy. The pumpkin cake was good, but not great. Maybe it was just that they weren't too terribly fresh. Or maybe I just have extra-high expectations for my beloved BabyCakes.

My third cupcake was from a bakery just two blocks from my apartment, La Delice Pastry Shop, a no-frills, traditional establishment. Nothing fancy. But their red velvet cupcake was my favorite of the three so far. At first I scoffed at the amount of icing, but once I tasted it I was grateful for the generous portion. And surprise! There was jelly in the middle of the cake. Odd, but hey, I'll welcome a little unprecedented jelly. Made it more like a red velvet jelly doughnut cupcake. There are vegetables in jelly, right?

Moving forward on my cupcake journey, any recommendations around the NYC area are welcome. I still have 26 cupcakes to eat. Poor me.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Do What's Easy

I heard this song yesterday via one of my daily blog stops, Dooce. I thought it was so beautiful and haunting and ironic in the the fact that the lyrics represent the complete opposite of how I have chosen to live my twenty-ninth year:

I loved it so much that I wrote out the lyrics onto one of my many magazine tear-outs and slapped that sucker into my Smash book (challenge #26):

In case anyone is wondering, this is exactly how I plan to live my 30th year. Except for maybe the reading and writing part.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Today was my first tutoring session with Reading Partners (per challenge #21). I met my student who I will be meeting with once a week for the rest of the semester, an 8-year-old second grader who we will call M.

It started out pretty well. She clearly has about 43 kinds of ADD, but we were able to truck along through the "get to know you" exercise. I pointed out Georgia on a map so she could see where I'm from. She told me about being the youngest of five children and how she wants to be just like her two older sisters. She likes french fries and the color pink (red is also acceptable).

When it was her turn to ask me questions (reading from a provided list), she did very well. With the first two questions. The third question had a word in it that she didn't know. As I started to help her sound it out, she made it clear that she wanted to do it herself. So I let her try. For ten minutes. Finally, I had to jump in because otherwise we'd get nowhere, but when I made the word's first sound, she flipped out. Fa-lipped out. 

For the next 20 minutes I literally chased her around the room while she screamed "You told me! You weren't supposed to tell me!" She wouldn't look at me or talk to me. Keep in mind that we haven't even started the actual lesson for the day.

Meanwhile the other tutors and students are living out a real-life Hallmark commercial.

Finally I got M back in her chair and on to the next exercise -- drawing her own book cover. Still quite reluctant, she drew a sun. Great! Progress! Then some clouds and some grass. Wonderful! Then she drew two heads with X's for eyes and said that "they were murdered and died and are ghosts and that's what happened and it's a scary story."


And here is where I get kind of sad because M obviously has some bad things going on in her life, things that her reading tutor isn't really able (or allowed) to help with. The coordinator (who is present in the room at all times) is going to talk to her teacher and see what's going on, so I may or may not have M in the future.

Stay tuned. It's going to be an interesting semester.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Climbing the Family Tree

I began to research my Jewish heritage almost immediately after the challenge was issued. I couldn't wait to find out a little more about where I come from and maybe even discover a long lost relative living near me. Or find out that I am actually a princess in some far-off land.

Through censuses, ship logs, the social security index and a few other easily accessible resources, I have uncovered some of the basics -- birth and death dates, addresses, marriages, occupations, etc.

My great grandfather (my father's mother's father, born 1868) was a photographer. He had an art studio in Pennsylvania (and later in England) beginning in 1894. The family traveled a lot between England, New York and South Africa. I knew that photography was in by blood somehow. My father still has his German lens made in 1880.
Below is a picture of my great grandmother (b. 1893 in Romania) -- her husband would be the above photographer -- and her father, my great great grandfather. His hat and beard are absolutely amazing.

Lots of gems like this to uncover over the course of the next year, but I could never have gotten this far in my genealogy challenge without the help of the magnificent Kyle Williams, a true ancestry artist.