Friday, March 30, 2012


Today Austin, Canon 5D Mark II and I leave for Italy, and you have no idea how many exclamation points I want to put at the end of this sentence. I can't even begin to imagine what my eyeballs and taste buds are in for. I'm also excited to cross some challenges off the list while I'm there (no. 5 and part of no. 19).


 Monterosso (Cinque Terre)


Needless to say I will not be posting next week. I might share a few photos, but otherwise all will be quiet on the blog front.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ten Weeks

Kyle turned ten weeks old on Tuesday, despite the fact that I almost killed him for a second time (roof deck + heavy rain = pissed off Kyle). He is looking and smelling a lot like basil, which is good considering that's pretty much his only job. Here he is hanging out with my pointer finger:

Soaking up some morning rays:

My only regret is that I didn't attempt to do a time lapse video of Kyle's growth. But if I had, it might have looked something like this:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Abrupt End

Breaking news: My beloved M has moved to a new school. For those of you just joining us on this challenge ride, M was the 8-year-old I was tutoring through a program called Reading Partners for challenge no. 21 (permanently and positively enrich the life of a child). Things started off quite chaotic until we fell into a rhythm of friendship and joyous learning. Just go ahead and imagine a feel-good montage filled with piles of books, nods of approval, and slow-motion high-fives.

I didn't even get to say goodbye! She is out of my life forever, and I have no idea where she'll go or who she'll become. I'd like to think that our short time together left an impression on her crazy (in a good way!) brain, maybe if only subconsciously, and one day when she is at a crossroads in her life, she will remember that one day in Room 306 when some weird old person told her that she could accomplish great things if she just worked hard and never gave up on learning. And in twenty years I'll be floating by a bookstore window on my hoverboard and see a display for the latest best-selling novel by someone named M, and I will smile a smile from the movies.

I think it's pretty clear that she may have enriched my life more than I did hers.

Yesterday I was assigned a new student to tutor. We will call her J. She is in the fourth grade, a much more advanced reader than M was. J is one of the sweetest little girls I have ever met. She is new to the school, which at this point does not surprise me, and is eager to learn.

We read a story about Paul Bunyon, during which I learned that J had never heard of the Grand Canyon and didn't know what a prairie or a pasture was. It's amazing how different your world view is when all you know is the five boroughs, when you change schools depending on what shelter you're living in, when you've seen a lifetime of hardship by the age of ten.

Hopefully J and I will work together long enough for me to meet this challenge. She certainly deserves my best effort.

Whoa, that ended heavier than anticipated. This one's for generation Y:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Four Months In: Progress Report

FOUR months? Seriously? The speed at which time is moving disturbs me greatly. Only eight more months to go, and while I have accomplished a lot so far and have almost all challenges in the works, there are still some big projects that are starting to weigh more heavily.

What can you expect between now and the next update? Flying, giving money away, two photo series, more religious services, and one giant work of art.

And then maybe a nap or seven.

Just like in the last update, the challenges in blue are the ones I'm actively working on. The challenges in green are the ones that are completed. The challenges in purple are the ones that I haven't started but are "in the works" or being planned out.
  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.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pillow Covers

Before I launch into sewing my own outfit for challenge no. 28, I have to strengthen my overall sewing skills. I had some throw pillows that didn't really go with the black/white/gray scheme of our upstairs loft, so I decided to make new pillow covers with some great upholstery fabric I found at Mood. The tutorial I used (view it here) called for an envelope back, probably the easiest way to make a pillow cover since there's no need for a zipper or buttons.

Pillows BEFORE:


I am personally a fan of mixing patterns (in this case geometric and floral) within the same color scheme. They turned out pretty well, and now I know how to make a pillow cover for the rest of my life. Loving these challenges.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Up in the Air

On Saturday, April 21st, I suggest you stay clear of the Atlanta air space. Because I will be all up in it. You know, just flying a plane. No big deal.

I have scheduled a "discovery flight" lesson with SkyBound Aviation out of Peachtree Dekalb Airport. As of this moment I am 50% terrified and 50% excited. But I'm sure my fear will eventually win out, turning me into a walking ball of nerves on a bad acid trip by around April 19th.

Being me, I of course requested the most experienced pilot they have on staff, Dr. No Crash McSafety. Who graduated from Harvard Princeton Flying School with a degree in Not Dying. Hopefully he won't be weirded out when I show up wearing a diaper.

Twenty-nine days until I take off! In a tiny plane like the one pictured above! I'm just going to keep using exclamation points to feign excitement!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Look

A few recent pages from my Smash book, courtesy of challenge no. 26:

Painting inspiration

List love + vintage Paris

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

All Souls Welcome

On Sunday I attended a Unitarian church called All Souls on the Upper East Side, my fourth religious service for challenge #29.

All Souls is a "self-governing congregation of nearly 1,500 people that was established in 1819. We come together to worship, serve the community and create an enriching, non-dogmatic religious environment." They are dedicated to "providing an environment in which all people feel welcome regardless of race, sexual orientation or physical ability."

In 1961 the Unitarians and Universalists joined together, making All Souls a Unitarian Universalist church and part of the UUA.

I was greeted warmly, took a program and entered the large sanctuary a few minutes early. Taking in my surroundings, I noted a few things: No crosses (or any symbols for that matter). No statues. No stained glass. A bare-bones but beautiful sanctuary, anything but intimidating.

My pew number. Fitting.

The crowd was extremely diverse, which was refreshing. I never felt out of place for a second. The overall vibe was friendly, approachable, and easy-going.

If I were to sum up this church and its service in one word, it would be community. Most of what was said in the sermon was about living life together, how we are all interdependent and can use that interdependence for good. What was missing? Talk of death, the afterlife, judgment. The word "God" was used, but when we were led in prayer, it was addressed to the "Spirit of the Universe."

The Doxology read as follows:
From all that dwell below the skies,
Let faith and hope with love arise;
Let beauty, truth and good be sung,
Through every land, by every tongue. Amen.

The music at All Souls had a more melodic quality than I've experienced before, at times taking on almost a Disney feel -- upbeat, happy and warm. There was a soloist who sang two different songs throughout the service. When he was finished, something truly remarkable happened. Something I have never experienced at a religious service before: There was applause. Applause! Well-deserved applause, might I add. Much better than stuffy silence and a few throat-clearing coughs.

Interesting hymn lyrics.

Stunning organ.

When the (55 minute) service was over, I headed downstairs to the coffee hour, where I stumbled upon a welcome surprise: vegan cookies at the ethical eating committee table. Praise Jesus! Or not!

Some people think that Unitarianism isn't a religion and that what I attended wasn't really "church." But according to one particular resource (my brain), if a group of people who share the same beliefs about a higher authority or spirit (in this case, the belief that God is who you want him/her to be) come together as a community to celebrate and explore those beliefs, then by God (or not), that is a church. I understand how Unitarianism could offend people of other faiths by being so open and accepting of so many convictions, but that doesn't mean that I think Unitarianism is wrong or evil. My experience with it was such a positive one that it's hard to fault them. Let them pray to the Spirit of the Universe, let them be welcoming to atheists and Christians alike, let them keep doing what they're doing. Because all they really want to do is good.

Monday, March 19, 2012

And Sew it Begins

Last Friday evening my very generous Uncle Richard took me fabric shopping at Mood for my sewing challenge (learn to sew, design your own outfit, make it, and take a self portrait in it).

Mood Fabrics is always a bit overwhelming. Combine that with my tendency to be crippled by indecision and there was a chance I would walk out empty handed. But alas, I found two fabrics that inspired me:

The striped fabric, which has a nice tooth to it, is going to become a pair of tailored shorts. The minty teal fabric, which is light and airy, has a future as a beautifully draped top.

I can see the outfit very clearly in my mind, but making it a reality is going to take a few practice runs and probably a lot of yelling at the sewing machine.

Or maybe I'll just linger outside the Fashion Institute on 27th with some cookies and a wad of cash.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

From M to L

Today at Reading Partners (challenge no. 21) my student M was out, so I tutored a fifth grader. We will call her L. Apparently the difference between a second grader and a fifth grader is kind of like the difference between an intern and a CEO. Enormous.

I have no idea why L is even in Reading Partners because she seemed to excel in every exercise. I was this close to asking her to do my taxes.

In honor of the warm weather we've been having in NYC, I thought I'd share an original poem written today by L. Notice the correct spelling of "a lot." She should run for president.

And although tutoring L was a delight, I did find myself missing M and all of her shenanigans. It made me realize that we are indeed creating a bond and that maybe, just maybe, I am leaving some sort of a stamp on her life.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stir Fry Try

Another raw vegan lunch recipe for challenge no. 20 (make and bring your lunch two out of five days per week). For this one I went for a stir fry. Mostly stir, not much fry.

(recipe source)

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp agave or raw honey
1 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 large parsnip
1 large carrot
1 cup sugar snap peas
Sesame seeds

Make a marinade with the olive oil, soy sauce, and agave/honey. Toss in the mushrooms and broccoli and set aside.

Peel and cut parsnip into pieces. Place in a food processor and process until coarsely chopped, when it takes on the appearance of rice.

Julienne the carrots into matchstick size pieces. Chop the peas into 1/2 inch pieces and toss into the parsnip rice with the carrots.

Stir in the entire broccoli and mushroom marinade mix. Toss. Add some sesame seeds. Enjoy!

On the side I made some eggplant chips in my dehydrator to dip into my new obsession: toasted walnut lentil pate. This stuff is heavenly:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Camera Adventures

Since three of my challenges involve photography, I've been toying with the idea of upgrading my camera. I've had my Nikon D90 for a few years now, and while it has been the best camera I've ever owned, I'm ready for the next level.

The next level for me is a Canon 5D Mark II. Yes, I'm making the switch from Nikon to Canon. And I don't feel bad about it. I gave a good ten years and thousands of dollars to Nikon.

Knowing I wanted to purchase the new camera before our Italy trip, I took Nikon out for one last adventure over the weekend. Austin, Dagmar, Nikon and I went down to Washington Square Park, found a bench in the sun, and listened to some beautiful live piano music. After a while we ventured out for some falafel, followed by a trip to the art store so I could gather up some watercolor supplies for challenge no. 25.

Many hours later, Austin, Dagmar and I headed home.

Me. Austin. Dagmar.

I left Nikon listening to piano music on a bench in Washington Square Park. For three hours. On a warm, beautiful day. In New York City. Honestly, I almost didn't go back. I was sure it was gone and didn't want to waste a cab ride downtown when I would just end up making an embarrassingly tearful scene in public. But I did go back.

Nikon was still there. Unbelievable, I know. And an embarrassingly tearful scene in public ended up happening anyway. However, it was a short-lived reunion as just this morning I put Nikon up for sale on eBay.

I look forward to my new relationship with Canon and all of the beautiful images we will create together.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Made "Art"

This weekend I accepted challenge no. 25 by attending my first art class since elementary school. Turns out my skills haven't developed much since that time. But it was a lot of fun, and unexpectedly therapeutic.

The class took place at the Brooklyn Artists Gym. Our instructor was Allison, a local watercolor artist. She began with the obligatory boring stuff: brush care, paint and paper options, the importance of not eating paint, and so on. We then learned twelve different watercolor techniques. As you can see, I mastered each one:

There were eight other students taking the class. All women. The chatty emotional perfectionist sitting next to me made for an entertaining experience to say the least. What happens when a chatty emotional perfectionist spills a cup of water all over her paper? Hilarious. That's what happens.

Watercolor is not the medium for perfectionists. You have to learn to work with the water and know that sometimes it will not do what you want it to do. This is exactly what I like about watercolor. I like not being in total control of what emerges on the paper. Me? Not wanting to be in control? Some of you are very confused right now.

I couldn't help snapping some pictures of the table, which looked like art itself:

My paper towel also took on a beautiful appearance. Art everywhere!

Finally, we took a stab at painting something. Allison placed a variety of objects in the center of the table and told us to paint what spoke to us. This plant spoke to me. He said, "Do a mediocre job of painting me."

Actually, I don't think it turned out too bad. And I even had enough time to do a second painting:

The next day I went to Blick Art Materials and bought an 18x24 watercolor canvas, brushes, paint, and some watercolor paper to practice on. I intend to create a masterpiece, so stay tuned. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Complimenting Strangers

Challenge no. 23 is to compliment a different person every day, preferably a stranger. I've found it amazing how many times complimenting a stranger leads to talking about Target.
Me:  Oh, what a nice scarf/handbag/jacket/bracelet/beard/chinchilla you have!
Stranger:  Thanks! I got it at Target.
Me:  OMG, don't you just LOVE Target?
Stranger:  I die for Target.
Me:  I could spend all day in Target.
Stranger:  I knooooow!
Me:  Best store ever.
Stranger:  It really is.
I've had this conversation twelve times since November.

I recently found a very interesting article called "7 Reasons You Should Compliment Total Strangers." Here are the reasons, with my comments under each:

1. You know exactly how it feels when a stranger compliments YOU.
Unless the compliment is, "You look like a Chinese Crested," which (sadly) has happened to me. 

2. The snowball effect is real.
You compliment stranger > stranger feels good and gives extra tip to delivery man > delivery man buys lotto ticket with extra tip > delivery man wins lottery > delivery man donates winnings to feed starving children > there are no starving children. 

3. You never know whose crappy day you might transform.
Note to self: Compliment angry people.

4. Karma is real.
So if I give 365 compliments, do I get extra karma? 

5. You'd make your grandmother proud.
Or your mother, who may or may not have issued you this challenge.

6. You might connect with someone totally amazing (or find out where she got her stuff).
Editor's note: The answer is Target.

7. Tiny acts of bravery can lead to bigger ones.
Like taking flying lessons? I really hope so.

I agree with all of these reasons, and would like to add another one: It feels good to compliment someone. Whether they mumble an unenthusiastic "thanks" or start skipping merrily away, you know that you've put something positive out there into the universe. And that, I believe, can inject a little bit of good into your day as well.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hump Day Haiku

I'm a big fan of the haiku. This one goes out to my favorite basil plant, Kyle the Resilient (challenge no. 24).

you were once mere seeds
toward the sun your green arms reach
glad you did not die

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Holy Architecture Not sure if I'd be able to make it out to the Ozarks in Arkansas just to attend a religious service (challenge no. 29), but this is certainly tempting me. I recently came across these pictures of Thorncrown Chapel. This place is beyond stunning:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pardon Me While I Gush

The second half of challenge no. 15 is to help my cousin Kaleigh get a graphic design gig in Atlanta. She's graduating from the University of Florida soon, and I realize that as a University of Georgia alum I am supposed to disown her for attending that "school," but family comes first. And super incredible talented family comes even firster.

I'd like to share some of her work here, starting with one of my personal favorites, the all-important Zombie Apocalypse Guide:

I know what you are all thinking: "In the event of a zombie attack, carrying around this poster is not very practical!" Don't worry, my friends. Kaleigh has anticipated your concern:

A zombie apocalypse guide on the go! Fashionable AND life-saving.

Some others, which I believe showcase her typography and photography abilities as well as her obvious design skills:

I'm pretty damn proud of her and happy to dedicate part of my challenge-infested year to helping her find a job. She comes from a long line of frustratingly talented people, so art, design and creating beautiful things is in her blood.

And if you're wondering why Kaleigh knows so much about zombies, it's because she is one. She's kind of self-conscious about it, so if you ever meet her in person, please don't stare at the flesh dripping off of her face. This is the most flattering picture I could find:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Vegetable Party in My Mouth

Today's lunch (challenge no. 20) recipe comes from one of my favorite raw blogs, Choosing Raw (only about half of the recipes Gena posts are raw, so don't let the name scare you away). Tomorrow I'm attending the Vegetarian Food Festival in NYC and will get to hear her speak, so I thought I'd try out one of her recipes: CURRIED CAULIFLOWER OVER PARSNIP RICE.

I'm using her picture here because it's so darn pretty, but mine looked pretty identical, just stuffed in a mason jar instead of a cute little bowl from Anthropologie:

Makes two servings.

For the curry:
2 cups chopped cauliflower florets
1 1/2 tsps mild curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp avocado oil
Pinch sea salt
Black pepper to taste

For the rice:
4 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tbsp almond butter, sunflower butter, or tahini
1/4 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
2 tsps rice vinegar
1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional but tasty)
Pepper to taste

Whisk together curry, turmeric, lemon juice, avocado oil, sea salt, and pepper to make a marinade.

Pour marinade over cauliflower, and mix well. Dehydrate at 115 degrees for 1 hour, OR roast at 375 for 30 minutes, OR simply allow to marinate while you finish prepping the rest of your dinner.

Prepare raw rice by placing parsnip in a food processor and processing till it’s quite broken down, but not quite “rice” sized in texture. Add remaining rice ingredients, and then pulse until the mixture does resemble a medium grain rice.

Place the cauliflower mixture over the rice and enjoy.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An Eclectic Audience

Things with Reading Partners and M (challenge no. 21) are continuing along a steady path. Like I've said before, M is very smart, but certain things (like another person existing in her near vicinity) can pull her away from the lesson.

One thing I've noticed is that if she doesn't know a word by sight, she'll just make a wild guess based on what the first letter is. Today, for example, she saw the word "drop" and said "dump." But when I told her to break it up by sounds, she had no problem.

Today's distraction, albeit an adorable one, was M insisting that she read to an audience. Introducing (from left to right) Louis, Makiah, Montserrat, and Randy:

Why she named a bunny ballerina after a British territory located in the Leeward Islands, I don't think I'll ever know. Maybe she is secretly smarter than all of us.