Friday, June 29, 2012

Tea Utensil Haul

Getting closer to performing a Japanese tea ceremony (challenge no. 17) as most of my utensils have arrived. I had to order everything online (tea ceremony equipment = impossible to find, even in NYC), and I was shocked at how expensive each item was. But I feel good knowing that I will soon get to serve tea to six of my friends in a way I never would have before:

 Powdered green tea, a tea caddy, and water ladle.

 The tea bowl, possibly the most important item aside from the tea itself.

Whisk and tea scoop.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yoga DVD Review Part III

My at-home yoga for challenge no. 1 continues with Rodney Yee's Yoga Burn:

Maybe I was expecting too much from this one. With the words "burn" and "toning" and "lean" on the front, I was thinking it would be intense. It was challenging, yes, but not in the way I was expecting.

The entire thing is done in slow motion. This has its benefits, most of which Rodney explains before the session begins. Keeping in constant motion without stopping but moving very, very, very slowly (very) is good for your body blah blah blah yoga muscle mumbo jumbo. 

To be honest, I was bored. Yoga on its own is generally too slow for me anyway. I get impatient and just feel like running outside to make up for an hour of breathing and stretching (yes, I know breathing and stretching are extremely good for you and your soul and namaste and whatever, but I just wasn't built for that kind of yoga).

I give Rodney a 4 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

7 Months In: Progress Report

Over the halfway mark. Five months left. I'd say I'm doing pretty well considering there are only two challenges I haven't at least started yet.

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. If it's in green and I haven't written about it yet, a post is coming.
  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, row 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, June 25, 2012

Pot Pies

Yesterday I connected with my inner Martha to whip up a batch of individual vegetarian pot pies. A good friend sent me this recipe from Vegetarian Times. They save really well, so I decided to make the leftovers my lunch for challenge no. 20.

I forgot to snap a picture of them straight out of the oven, but they looked very similar to this, except I would never choose that tablecloth and I rarely serve meals with a side of raw asparagus:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 4 Tbs. cold soy margarine, cut into pieces

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium leek, white and green parts chopped (1 ½ cups)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped celery or fennel
  • 2 large carrots, diced (1 cup)
  • 8 oz. button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
  • 4 oz. red-skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (1 ½ cups)
  • 2 ¼ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 2 Tbs. creamy cashew butter, optional (I left this out)
  • 6 asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
  • ½ cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels

1. To make dough: Whisk together flours and salt in bowl. Cut or rub margarine into flour mixture until no large pieces remain. Stir in 3 to 4 Tbs. cold water until smooth dough forms. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill while making Filling.
2. To make filling: Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add leek, celery, carrots, and mushrooms; sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until tender. Stir in flour 
and garlic, and cook 1 minute. Add potatoes, broth, and poultry seasoning. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in cashew butter (if using), and 
cook 1 minute more. Remove from heat, and stir in asparagus, peas, and corn.

3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into 8 4-inch rounds.
4. Divide filling among 8 1-cup ramekins. Place dough rounds on top, pressing dough around sides of ramekins with fork to crimp and seal. Poke hole in top of each pot pie. Place pot pies on baking sheet, and bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, June 22, 2012

$100 Richer

100 dollars. 100 percent did not know this guy.

Challenge no. 2 was to give a complete stranger $100, film it and put it on YouTube.

He was sitting on a bench in Union Square on Sunday. After walking through the park at least four times, I chose him. This is what happened:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Yoga DVD Review Part II

The second DVD on my three-part yoga review series (based on challenge no. 1) is:

Exhale's instructors are a married couple who teeter on the edge of being incredibly annoying, but their workouts are stellar, so I can forgive them to a certain extent.

Similar to their other DVDs in the Exhale series, this one starts off with a deceivingly mild warm-up. Then, suddenly, you're launching into what seems like a 45-minute plank and angering muscles that had no idea what was coming.

Energy Flow is much more rooted in yoga than Jillian Michael's version (review here). While Elizabeth and Fred do include repetitions, it is for the most part a heart-pumping Vinyasa flow. Down Dog breaks seem like milliseconds. That being said, it is not the most difficult yoga session I've ever done. If I can complete every move, it has to be incredibly easy for a lot of yoga practicers out there.

Boosting this DVD's score is the fact that they break it up into five 10-minute sections. So you can do almost an hour workout or pick and choose based on how much time you have.

I'm giving Energy Flow an 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wine Making Haul

I recently purchased everything I will need to make blackberry wine (challenge no. 9). I'm waiting until July to go blackberry picking, when they are fully ripe. There are quite a few pick-your-own farms within reasonable driving distance of NYC. After I acquire my berries, it's about a 17-day process. Let's hope my winemaking skills aren't as bad as my art skills.

 Great brewing shop in Gowanus.

 Equipment: Bucket, glass jug, tubing for siphoning, siphon starter, hand corker, sanitizer, red wine yeast, and airlock.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Smash Book Friday

I've filled 47 out of 76 pages in my Smash Book (challenge no. 26), mostly with scrumptious visuals and words and designs and overall memorable memorabilia. I look forward to the next 29 pages.

Here are some I've completed in the last few days:


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Yoga DVD Review Part 1

First up is Jillian and her mega-calorie-burn Yoga Meltdown:

I began with level 1, a vinyasa-based thirty minute workout that was fast-paced and challenging enough (I wasn't bored but I wasn't dying). The difference between this video and most of the classes I've taken was that Jillian includes a lot of repetitions within each pose, which I liked.

This isn't a relaxing yoga session, which I also liked. I prefer to work out my body rather than sit there for thirty minutes breathing in and out.

So, on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being a complete waste of time and 10 being a life-changing yoga session), I give Yoga Meltdown Level 1 a solid 6.5.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Diary of a Dead Bug

A little back-story on challenge no. 10: When I was four years old I met the four-year-old who happened to live across the street, Jackie. We quickly became inseparable and are still good friends today (BRBFTE!). Growing up, if we weren't building forts or riding bikes or swimming or making up dances or rollerskating or making up dances on roller-skates, we were pretending to be dead bugs in the street. We were little geniuses. The art of dead bugs in the street was way ahead of its time.

So here I am, twenty something years later, being a dead bug in a NYC street (33rd Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue, to be exact):

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Yoga Wars

So Barnes and Noble was having a buy-2-get-1-free DVD sale, and I went a little nuts on the yoga DVDs. Since we just moved, I've been slacking on the yoga three times a week (challenge no. 1). It's time to get it together.

I thought I'd do a little review of each DVD (starting tomorrow as I have to actually do them). Meet the contestants:

Yeah, I know. Jillian Michaels. But I have one of her other DVDs (called Metabolism Boost Jump Start Fat Annihilator or something similar) and it has made me unable to walk up and down stairs on many occasion, so I figure that her way of yoga is going to be challenging enough. And look what it says on the cover: burn MEGA calories! I like to do MEGA everything, so let's do this, Michaels.

I have never heard of Rodney Yee before (until of course I consulted his Wikipedia page), but he looks like he knows what he's doing. He was a gymnast and ballet dancer and appears to have negative percent body fat. I'm afraid I won't be able to keep up with this one, but we'll see.

I already have some of Exhale's DVDs, purchased after I spent a trial week at the Exhale gym and spa here in NYC and realized they do the exact same thing on the DVDs as they do in their classes. $250 a month saved! Anyway, their classes were extremely challenging, so I'm willing to give their yoga a try.

So I'll be spending the next week with Jillian, Rodney, Elisabeth and Fred. Wish me luck. Namaste and stuff.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Taco Night

Challenge no. 8 was to spend the night in a women's shelter. I have to be honest, this one scared me a bit. Not because I'd have to spend the night in a women's shelter, but because I'd be exposed to a world that I usually try to avoid. Obviously I'm going to keep the name and the location of the shelter private, but I will say that it was a church-based facility and in Manhattan. I was one of two overnight volunteers for this particular shelter.

I arrived at 7:30 p.m. just as all of the "guests" were arriving. Some went straight to the food. It was taco night. Some grabbed their cots and rolled them to their desired area of the large room. Some were talkative. Others kept to themselves. Some stared at me. Others pretended I wasn't even there.

Like I mentioned in my teaser post (check it out to see a few pictures), I sat and talked with some of the women. The whole evening took on an oddly narrative form. I felt like I was in a movie, hearing scripted dialogue and learning more and more about each of the characters as the night went on:
A large woman sporting short hair, thin-rimmed glasses and a Walkman enters the room. When she speaks, asking for a cup of salt, I hear a deep, soulful voice. She's had a tooth pulled today. But don't worry -- she has a high pain tolerance. Tracy is the veteran of the group. She knows the ins and outs of the shelter, when to talk and when to keep her mouth shut. She simply shakes her head when another woman threatens to make a scene after failing to bum a cigarette outside. Sitting around the dining table, Tracy stares at a pineapple chunk for a few seconds before going for the creamed spinach instead. She is listening to the basketball game on her headphones.

Her hair is wrapped in a white scarf, piled high on her head. She's thirty-eight but I would have guessed twenty-five. She is the most talkative at dinner, eating fast and smiling wide. The plantains are her favorite. Kenya's mother was a twin. Kenya looks more like her aunt. Her mother was a doll maker, and her twin sister made the doll clothes. She learned how to crochet from her aunt. Tonight she crochets a red, pink and white blanket with a geometric pattern. I tell her it is beautiful, and it really is. I make a mental note to buy her some purple yarn. It's her favorite color.

A tall woman with curly white hair introduces herself as Olga, of Native American and African American descent. Before dinner, when everyone is setting up their cots, she teaches me how to tie my sheets under my cot so that bugs won't crawl up them in the night. I find this extremely helpful as I prefer my sleep to be bug-free. Olga believes that when you sleep somewhere, you leave a little bit of your soul. She lingers at the dining table with me and tells me a story: In the 1970s, when she was in her twenties, she traveled to a place called Cumming, Georgia. I have not told her where I am from. She had to hide in the backseat of the car and scurry indoors and face dirty looks and dirtier language. I do not think it's a coincidence that I ended up at this shelter with this woman hearing this story.
Lights out at 10:00. I sleep on a cot among all of the other guests. I hear the air conditioning and the hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen and the distant sound of the basketball game on Tracy's headphones across the room. As my eyes adjust I see various traps around my cot, not knowing what exactly they are intended to catch. It smells musty and muggy and unfamiliar. I'm not sure when I finally fell asleep, probably around 1:00 a.m. Before I knew it, it was time to get up. At 5:30 a.m.

By 6:15 a.m. everyone had grabbed something to eat and started to leave. The other volunteer and I put the cots away. We put the dirty linens in a large bag. We put the coffee maker back in the kitchen. And then I went home.

Home. Where I can go anytime. Where I can shower and choose what to wear and cuddle with my dog and watch TV. Where I can order food or cook food or throw a party or do yoga. Where I can live.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I Ate Kyle

The day has come. I have harvested Kyle.

Corn. Scallions. Salt. Pepper. Vinegar. Olive oil. Kyle.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


This past Sunday I attended my 7th religious service for challenge no. 29: Abyssinian Baptist Church in the heart of Harlem. It just might be one of my favorites.

Abyssinian (which I can now finally pronounce) was founded in 1808 and has a powerful lineage and palpable pride emanating from its members, who will describe themselves as a "fourth generation Abyssinian" or "descendant of (famous member)."

I had been putting this particular service off because I knew there was always a line to get in (it's considered a major tourist attraction). I showed up around 9:00 and there was already a line for the 11:00 service. Abyssinian lets its members fill the church and then gives the remaining seats to the visitors. The rules were made clear: No flip-flops, no bare shoulders, no sports attire, no pictures on the inside, and no leaving before its over. I witnessed many angry camera-toting tourists being turned away. 

The gospel music was, of course, amazing. No surprises there. That's one of the main reasons for the line wrapped around the block two hours before the service.

On this particular morning the church was observing Pastor's Memorial Sunday, honoring the former pastors of the church, who reigned like kings in their tenure and are still the most highly regarded aspect of the church, with the exception of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The sermon was delivered by a guest Reverend, Sharon Williams.

Rev. Williams was electric, booming, her arms working in sync with her voice, punctuating those particularly passionate points. I was captivated by her. She commanded that room with her presence, her humor (she was damn funny), her honesty. No word passed through her lips that she didn't believe in with every ounce of her being.

Her sermon revolved around the idea of AUTHORITY:

It is the nature of authority which makes it a matter of contention because people want to fight over who has it. Authority is not power. Authority is the right to USE power. When Jesus came and started healing and performing miracles, the question was not whether he COULD do those things but who AUTHORIZED him to do those things. Who gave him the right to use such power?

Well, God. Obviously.

The authority in which Jesus stands is the mark of the nails on his resurrected body. The authority in which Christians stand is the mark of the nails on our resurrected bodies. A Christian stands in authority to comfort those afflicted by sin and afflict those comfortable with sin.

Near the end of the sermon, she said this: I AM NOT SCARED OF ANYTHING ANYMORE.

As I wallowed in the silence that followed, I realize that this statement was one of the most powerful statements I've ever heard. I've never heard anyone say those words and mean it more than Rev. Williams meant it. Can you imagine the freedom she must feel, not being afraid? It radiated from her. I was all the way up in the balcony and I could see it in her expression.

And at that moment she inspired me to somehow remove all the fear from my life. Now I just have to figure out how.

Monday, June 4, 2012


A huge blank watercolor canvas sits in my bedroom, waiting to be painted. I've been trying to beef up my art skills before I paint something on it. I know I could just buy another canvas if it turned out horribly, but me being me, I'd rather be awesome at it the first go-round and throw a self-hate tantrum if it's not perfect.

Anyway, I decided to try and recreate some watercolor art that I admire on my practice paper. Here are the inspiration paintings (click on each for source):

 And here are my versions:


I think I invented some countries in the first one. The second one is not that bad, but the color choices were a mistake.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Take Shelter

"I believe that when you sleep somewhere, you leave a little bit of your soul." -- Olga

I recently completed challenge no. 8 by spending the night in a women's shelter in Manhattan. It was intense. It rocked my world off its axis. And I'm so very glad I did it.

There were four women I bonded with in particular: Tracy, Kenya, Olga, and Sista C. These aren't the crack-addict, rambling, confused homeless people off the street. These are intelligent, kind, beautiful women who happened to have some trouble getting to where they are going in life.

I need to take some time to write about it because I'm still wrapping my head around the evening. In the meantime, here are a few pictures: