Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Making Blackberry Wine: Part 2, Featuring Science!

I have (successfully, I hope) completed step two in making blackberry wine (challenge no. 9). This is the fun step, when the fermenting begins.

When we last left off, I had combined my crushed berries, simple syrup and yeast in a bucket and let it sit for seven days.

Last night I strained that mixture through some cheesecloth into my carboy (a gallon glass jug) using a funnel. Then I added some more simple syrup (I dissolved 1 3/4 cups of sugar in 2 cups of boiling water and then LET IT COOL before adding it to the jug). Lastly, I attached the airlock to the top of the jug. It looked something like this:

 And THEN this started happening:

It is the carbon dioxide being sucked out that is creating the bubbling effect. 

Things will stay just like this for ten days. I'm crossing my fingers that everything goes smoothly and that I have some delicious blackberry wine by next Thursday night. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Government Procedural Reforms: Part 1

Oooh, sexy title. I can sense your excitement. Get ready for some titillating political discussion.

Right here and right now I will outline the first two (out of an eventual ten) procedural reforms for challenge no. 4, which is to "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."

So here they are:


There is widespread financial corruption in our government. This is no secret. Currently, our representatives know exactly who is giving them money, and in many cases, that money buys results. It's as simple as that. Well, what if the members had no idea who gave them what? To quote Lawrence Lessig from Republic, Lost:

"If the problem with money in politics is that money will bend politics, this requires that the politicians know something about who their money comes from. Add anonymity, and that essential condition gets removed. Remove that essential condition and it could just not be true that money buys results. If we could make it impossible (or really, really difficult) for a member to know who gave his campaign what, we would make it impossible for the member to give favors in exchange for the gifts that have been given."

This, in theory, is genius. There are obvious drawbacks (it could greatly reduce the overall amount of funding that is contributed), but if we could develop a working system of anonymity (for example, where a lump donation is scattered into different amounts), then our representatives will not be able to act out of promises made.

"Sure, I could tell you that I contributed $10,000 to your campaign, but if you couldn't be sure, there wouldn't be much reason for you to respond. My incentive to give would thus be weakened substantially, at least if the motive of my gift were to buy a particular result. That decline in incentives would thus weaken the market for buying policy."


Congress must address a predetermined number of bills that benefit the environment in some way. This one is pretty self explanatory.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Results Are In

This past school year I became a tutor for Reading Partners, a program where I was able to partner up with an elementary student and help that struggling individual improve their reading skills. This is the path I chose in order to complete challenge no. 21 (permanently and positively enrich the life of a child without financial contribution).

My experience was insanely positive, and yesterday it was made even more so when I received the results of our volunteering:

"We are pleased to announce that 88% of students served accelerated their rate of learning."

These are pretty outstanding results, especially considering that this was Reading Partner's first year in NYC.

I performed one of my many jigs in celebration.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Eight Months In: Progress Report

Four months left. Feeling the pressure. Looks a lot like this:

Look! I made a pie chart to put my eight months of challenges into perspective:

Since nine out of my thirty challenge involve doing something daily or weekly, I won't be able to cross those off until the very last day. 

Now for a more detailed breakdown. 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, 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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kyle's Organic Upgrade

Kyle (challenge no. 24) is getting taller and greener every day after a few weeks of being rather ill. It was user error on my part as I placed him on the window sill behind the bedroom curtain and then forgot he was there. He was not happy with me after that and gave me the silent treatment for days. Then it was brought to my attention that plants need to be fertilized. So I (organically) fertilized the s**t out of him to make up for my previous neglect. He perked right up after that. I love my little coked out basil plant:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Making Blackberry Wine: Part 1

I have berry juice under my fingernails as I type this. Last night I began my blackberry wine-making journey (challenge no. 9). Here's how it went down:

1. I gathered my blackberries (4 1/2 pounds). Picked fresh from the Whole Foods tree. Or bush. Whatever.

2. I crushed the berries by hand in a polyurethane pale from my local home brewing store (which I sanitized prior to using) and then poured on one quart of boiled water that had cooled to room temperature. I mixed it well.

3. I crushed one Campden tablet (kills any unwanted yeast), dissolved it in a bit of warm water and added it to the fruit mixture.

4. Leaving the mixture alone for two hours, I took 1 + 2/3 cups of sugar and boiled it for one minute in three pints of water (48 ounces). I allowed this to cool to room temperature.

5. Once it cooled, I emptied a packet of yeast into 4 ounces of warm water and let it sit for 10 minutes.

6. Finally I added the syrup (sugar water) into the pulp, followed by the dissolved yeast. I covered the bucket with some paper towels (it called for cheesecloth but I didn't have any).

The next step is to let it sit for 7 days in a "warm place." Hopefully the temperature inside my apartment will suffice. I'll post an update in a week with the progress and next steps.

If you want to see the instructions I'm using throughout this whole process, click here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Baha'i There

Preface: This post contains what are commonly referred to as "opinions." No offense is intended.

For religious service number eight out of ten (challenge no. 29), I attended the 11:00 service at the Baha'i ("bah-high") center near Union Square in Manhattan.

I never thought that common sense and religion could or should belong in the same sentence, but Baha'i got the closest to accomplishing that connection for me. The Baha'i faith revolves around the principle of unity and that God has sent nine messengers throughout history, including Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Mohammed. While the rest of the world separates these prophets into different religions, Baha'is believe that they were each sent by the same God to reach different peoples of the earth. I have always wondered...would I be Muslim if I happened to be born in Iraq? A diehard Catholic if I were from Italy? Why does the location of your birth so often dictate what God you believe in? If I was born in a place where Christianity did not exist and I was never exposed to it, does that mean I am damned to hell in the eyes of Christians?

The space at the Baha'i Center of NYC was a small-ish room with a circle of chairs around a table of prayer books in every language you could imagine. We began with introductions. The people in attendance were from China, Russia, Bolivia, Bulgaria, England, Jamaica, Ethiopia, and the United States. The atmosphere was completely relaxed. There was about a half hour of prayer, at which time any member could recite something from a book or from memory or sing, if they felt so inclined. Then we launched into an hour-long discussion of the day's topic: The importance of religion. It was a classroom-esque forum where one person called on others to speak.

Within minutes, my mind was racing with these things called "thoughts." I have them from time to time, but hardly ever does a religious service bring so many to the surface.

One such thought was that so often religious peoples act out of fear. They fear going to hell, so they try to live what they consider to be "good." They fear what others in their community will think of them, so they show up to church every Sunday. They fear other religions, so they close their eyes and their ears to what others have to say.

From what I could gather in my short experience on 11th Street, Baha'is don't act out of fear. They act out of the desire to better humanity and to spread peace and understand throughout the world. They believe the purpose of religion is to establish order in the world and the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein. Baha'u'llah (the founder of the Baha'i faith) wrote, "Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion with ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquility and peace cease to shine."

To learn more about the Baha'i faith, visit www.bahai.org.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Apartment

Together, challenges no. 27 and 30 have me working on the beginnings of a novel. This is very exciting because I'm the only advertising copywriter to ever dream of and work on writing a novel.

Anyway, this is a snippet from one of the chapters of The Apartment. I realize it gives nothing away in terms of what the story is about, but these are the days of teeny tiny attention spans and paragraph skimming, so I wanted to keep it short:

An epic lump was in the process of invading his throat. It made him feel powerless, yet he made no effort to squelch it. Next came the alarmingly rapid heartbeat, followed by the deepest pit to ever grace his stomach.

But before the lump and the beat and the pit came the girl. Through the front door.

She was wearing pants.

Morris stood by the window in the main room of the apartment, his back to the door, observing the lipstick red color of the leaves on the tree that stood guard for the building, a fine display of the season that turned the living room window into nothing short of a giant photograph. He loved the window dearly. It was the first thing that met his eyes upon entering the apartment, and the last view he took in before retiring each night. What he loved most about the window was its honesty. What he saw through it was reality. Sure, it fogged at times, blurring the truth. But he couldn't blame the window for that.

He looked beyond the red leaves and into an apartment across the street. A scrawny boy of eight or nine was playing with a wooden train set, forcing two cars to collide over and over and over again. Three doors down sat a plump orange cat, completely still except for the tip of its tail, which undulated on top of the window sill. The cat appeared to be looking right at Morris, as if their dual voyeuristic activity created some sort of camaraderie, though he could only speculate that this was the case. The difference between them was that the cat was not drinking whiskey.

With one thumb hooked and resting on his suspenders, the other caressed the rim of an almost-empty whiskey glass, its contents settling warmly in his stomach and taking the appropriate edge off. He was waiting. He was nervous. He was also slightly drunk.

Morris was not an avid drinker, but in the midst of the right occasion it was always whiskey and always in the privacy of the apartment. Speakeasies were too full of fluffy conversation and overpriced bottom-shelf liquor, and he could get the good stuff from a generous cousin with Irish ties. He indulged himself in one last swig just as the wind picked up, separating a handful of leaves from the tree and giving Morris a shiver despite the fact that the window was closed.

Don't worry, the albino ninjas holding lasers and riding robotic centaurs come in right after this. I didn't want to give the WHOLE thing away. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


It's been a while since I put my writing reputation on the line with a bad pun, so you're all welcome for that title. It might get me fired.

A lot of positive things have been happening lately, which is certainly making challenge no. 16 easy. I thought I'd take a blog pause to gush for a moment.

There are the small things, like seeing prairie dogs on a morning run, winning a free smoothie by checking in on Foursquare, an incredible thunderstorm, guilt-free naps, and discovering the best drink ever in life:

The medium things, like a visit to Colorado to see some of my favorite people on earth, welcoming a dishwasher back into my life, and having a comic book icon sketch an unprompted zombie Oreo superhero just for us:

And the big things, like waking up every morning with all of my limbs, a roof over my head, a job, a fun city to play in, a pretty decent fiance, and the world's best dog:

I'm allowed to gush every once in a while.

Please don't jinx me, post.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Republic, Lost

I'm setting aside the art and sewing and cooking and writing and photographing for a moment for a challenge that will make me use a different part of my brain.

Challenge no. 4 is to "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."

I am a product of my generation in that I only watch the news when sitting in an airport terminal. My world revolves around art and design, not politics and policy. Which is why I love this challenge. Because it forces me to learn about something I haven't really thought about since Intro to Political Science at UGA. I don't even know if I took that class but let's just assume I did and that I made an A.

As Google and I set out on this political adventure, I decided to get creepy and email some poli-sci Ph.D. students at NYU for some direction.

Out of those emails came a recommendation, which I quickly purchased:

The table of contents alone stirred something in me, so I look forward to reading it. Apparently Lessig addresses some pertinent reforms in the text, and I'm hoping they inspire a few of the reforms that I will write about and distribute for this challenge.

I'm also hoping there are ninjas and wizards and perhaps a love story in there somewhere.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Switching Gears

I've changed my mind.

This was my original idea for a photo series (challenge no. 12). The problem is, I don't know many people with small children, and getting a friend of a friend of a friend to let you into their home, force them into a prom dress from 1995, smear makeup all over their face, and then take pictures of them is proving to be more difficult than anticipated.

Basically, people aren't lining up around the block to have this experience, and the entire idea of a photo SERIES is that I need multiple participants. At this rate the series wouldn't be completed by my thirtieth birthday. Kind of the whole point.

But behind the blog curtain I've been carrying on a second photo series, an idea that I had way before Styled by Child. Here is a little taste:

This series should be completed over the course of the next week or two. Looking forward to crossing another challenge off the list.

I'd like to thank the two mothers who did participate. I still love what came out of those shoots, and now they each have some digital images that their kids can use as blackmail for decades to come.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Faux Fox

I am officially crossing challenge no. 25 off the list, having now completed my 24x36 work of art.

A while back I wrote a bunch of hullaballoo about watercolor, about how I love the fickle nature of it and the flowing, colorful beauty of the medium. That is all still true, but I have found that my abilities are comical when it comes to working with it. My talents lie in geometric shapes and defined spaces and lines that I can measure. It's mathy art.

This was inspired by a fox wire sculpture I saw:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

New Obsession: Farro

Have you guys heard about FARRO?! It's only my most exciting grain discovery since quinoa. It is soft yet toothsome with a delightfully nutty flavor. Low in gluten, rich in protein, fiber and vitamins A, B, C and E. If brown rice had a cool, super-friendly Italian cousin, it would be farro. 

Today's lunch (challenge no. 20) is farro-ful. I don't have a specific recipe for you, but there are plenty of great ones online (I recommend this one from the Food Network).

Roughly: I sauteed some onions, garlic, red and yellow peppers over medium heat until soft. I added some spinach and let that cook down. I added the farro (about 3/4 cup, soaked for a few minutes and then drained) and let it "toast" for a minute or two. Then I started adding vegetable stock. Three cups were added in total, but I added it gradually. Let the farro soak it up before you put in more. Near the end I added salt and pepper to taste.

Farro is perfect if you have a ton of random veggies you need to use up. Veggies + farro + vegetable stock = perfection. I feel like this is going to be a staple in the Hamilton-Pickles-Potts household.

Dagmar's last name is Pickles.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I'm over seven months into this whole thing, and over the course of those months I've been asked a lot of questions. I will now answer them here.

I would say all of them, but that's too PC of an answer. While there is not one challenge that I wasn't excited to receive or complete, my favorite is a tie between flying a plane, spending the night in a women's shelter, attending ten religious services, and learning to sew. Those really represent what this whole endeavor was all about. Quit your whining if you didn't make the top four and then read words 14 through 27 of this paragraph.

The daily challenges are the toughest, specifically sitting in silence and stillness for fifteen minutes first thing every morning. This does not mean that this is my least favorite challenge. It just means that it has required the most adjustment in my daily life. Some days I need it and look forward to it and enjoy it. Other days I am impatient and inundated with swirling thoughts. The one thing I've learned is to just go with it. Don't force calmness. Just be.

Nope. I do my best, but there are a few days here or there that get away from me. I would apologize for it, but I have thirty challenges to do, so get off my back.

I am doing thirty challenges over the course of a year. They are not separated by month. I complete them at my own pace.

Not even a little bit. I would have never had some of these life-changing experiences otherwise. And it makes future goals seem more possible. Can I learn French next year? I now know that I can. Because it's one challenge. Not thirty. And the fact that I've inspired others to incorporate challenges on some level into their lives makes it that much more worth it.

No. If Kurt Cobain and Michael Jackson were singing a duet on that rooftop in Rome, I would have been just as surprised.

Write a blog about it. It's the most motivating thing you can possibly do.

Because I hate you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Answer, My Friend

Some more Smash Book action for you (challenge no. 26), this time featuring drapery fabric, postcards, fifteen minutes of Oreo fame, mood boards, and Colorado memories. I also did some math and discovered that my Smash Book is 69.74% complete. And yes, I Googled "how to figure out a percentage of something" to get that number. I'm going to be a great parent one day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

CO to NY

Traveling back from a long-but-still-too-short weekend in Colorado. Posting shall resume tomorrow. So all four of you readers can go ahead and quit wondering where I've been for the past few days.

Steamboat Springs, CO.

Wildfire aftermath on Highway 14.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Whole Nine Yards

As the first part of challenge no. 28 is learning to sew, my needle-and-thread escapades continue, this time with homemade floor-to-ceiling curtains for our new bedroom.

I ordered the fabric (nine yards of it) online for $11 a yard, which I got all giggly about because I saw the exact same fabric at Mood Fabrics in NYC for more than double that price.

Curtains are insanely simple to sew. The challenge with these was just keeping the hem consistent for fourteen feet. But I pulled it off with the help of some hem tape, an iron, and my trusty Brother sewing machine.

The pictures don't do them justice. They are dramatic and soften the room, giving it an elegant, hotel-like feel. I'm pretty much in love with them.

Thank you to Austin, who channeled his inner rock climbing handyman to install these 14-foot decorative beasts.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A More Appropriate Recipe

Last week (one of the hottest weeks ever in life) I made pot pies, otherwise known as a hot and hearty winter dish. So for my lunch today I thought I'd redeem myself with something a little lighter. And colder.

On today's menu (challenge no. 20) is zucchini pasta with peas and asparagus, tossed in an avocado sauce. To make the noodles, I opted for a vegetable peeler, which made fettuccine-like noodles out of the zucchini. You can also use a spiralizer or whatever fancy schmancy robot noodle maker you happen to have in your kitchen.


1 large zucchini
pinch of salt
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup asparagus

1 avocado
6 TBSP water
1 TBSP lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 TBSP fresh thyme

Peel the zucchini and noodle-ize them to your liking. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.

Throw the sauce ingredients in a blender and...wait for it...blend. Until smooth.

Blanch the asparagus and peas (I actually just poured boiling water over them in a bowl and let it sit for 2 minutes).

Drain the asparagus and peas and combine with zucchini noodles. Add the dressing and toss to coat.

Do a jig (optional).