2017 in review

2017 was a really, truly busy and hectic year for me. I travelled like I’ve never travelled before, I experienced some major life milestones, and I made some progress in my attempt to become a better person. Here’s a brief recap of my year.

January: To get away from DC during the madness that was the inauguration, I logged a weekend trip to Montreal and a day trip to Quebec City. Canada was snowy but not terribly cold. I spent a lot of time walking around, taking pictures, and drinking hot cocoa. I also watched the finale of Goblin from my hotel room in Montreal, which was a very weird, surreal feeling, given that the show actually ended in Quebec.

February: Not much happened this month. To calm my anxiety about job searching, I went on a lot of walks and explored the Gallery of Art, the Renwick Gallery, and the National Zoo.

March: I spent a week in Colombia, doing field research for my capstone project. The Monday after I got back, I went to the courthouse in front of a judge and legally changed my name.

April: This month was–naturally–insane. I hustled to get all my final papers done, and my capstone presentation ready. I got awfully sick for about two weeks and cried while I was on the phone with my mom. She came up and took care of me for a couple of days. (And I cried again when she left.) I saw Matt Damon speak in person at a work event.

May: I graduated with my master’s degree, and my family came to DC. Commencement took place on the National Mall, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin was the speaker. Afterwards, we went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant.

June: We spent three busy weeks train-ing around Europe, hitting up the countries we hadn’t been to previously (Spain, Germany, and the UK), in addition to Paris. My favorite memories are looking at Neuschwanstein Castle from a bridge, and walking around the church in Stratford-upon-Avon where Shakespeare is buried. At the end of the trip, I got a phone call–with a job offer. I quickly began searching for a new apartment and landed the perfect one within two weeks. I saw Bernie speak in person, again.

July: I began learning the ropes at my new job. I visited two museums this month: Hillwood Gardens, and the Hirshhorn for its new Ai Weiwei exhibit.

August: After 4 years in DC, I moved back out into Virginia so that I could afford to rent my own nice little studio apartment. My mom came up for a few days to help me move. I got a trial Blue Apron box for a week but decided it wasn’t worth it. I got two plants from a cute little nursery in Capitol Hill–both of which are alive and well on my window sill to this day. Apparently all you have to do to keep plants alive is to water them when they look dry.

September: I continued to furnish my new apartment. I developed an interest in brewing coffee with a moka pot, but gave up after a few weeks because the coffees I made always sucked. I cooked a lot and got better at cooking as a result. I started Korean classes to prepare for my trip to Korea.

October: I voted for the first time in Virginia. I saw a lights show at the Freer Gallery’s re-opening that was so beautiful that I watched it twice. I worked Europe hours from DC for three days in a row, which absolutely wrecked me.

November: I spent a lovely Thanksgiving vacation in Asia. It was marred by the awful cold and allergies that the air pollution in Seoul inflicted on me, but ultimately saved by the sunny, lighthearted weather and amazing food in Taipei.

December: I amtrakked up to New York and spent three exhausting days working nonstop and taking an exam that lasted nearly 5 hours. I did have the best slice of NYC pizza, though, and some amazing doughnuts from a coffee shop, so I can’t complain too much. I spent Christmas with my family in Miami and then back home in Atlanta, which caused a lot of stress and unhappiness (that I managed to internalize until I went through security at the airport, and then I cried silently on-and-off until we were in the air).

It was a difficult way to end the year, but I felt much better when I woke up this morning. It was less than 20 degrees out, but I bundled up and went out to buy groceries, then came back and cleaned the entire apartment while listening to the new Chappelle special on Netflix. 2018 is going to be another life-changing milestone year. I can feel it.

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Review, “The Shape of Water”

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This is a brief review of Guillermo del Toro’s new film, “The Shape of Water,” which I saw on Thursday night. Spoilers.

Overall, I found it enjoyable but not as strong as del Toro’s previous work (and by that I mean Pan’s Labyrinth, because that’s the only past work I’ve seen from him).

I appreciated the gist of the story. A lonely, mute janitor falls in love with a captive water monster from the Amazon. But the execution was lacking. The protagonists insists that she lives an isolated, misunderstood, marginalized life, and Gills is the only creature who has ever cared for her, or whatever. But in the film we clearly see that she has good friends in her landlord/roommate and a woman from work who’s been her cleaning partner for ten years. These two individuals also put their own lives/criminal records on the line to help her break aquaman out of the research facility. That really undermines the “boo hoo I’m so lonely and everyone hates me except for you” message that the director is trying to convey here.

Also, the love story came out of nowhere. One second Eliza is feeding eggs to the giant lizard dude and playing him music. The next second she has decided that they are madly in love and she must free him from captivity and take him to her apartment and have shower sex with him. (Yes, that was a thing that happened, and I cringed every time.) There was no transition, nothing to explain this.

The ending was a mess. Eliza and landlord/roommate are on a dock with Godzilla, about to release him into the water. (By the way, they are in Baltimore, and the theater let out a big chuckle when a character uttered the line, “Everyone hates Baltimore.”) Evil research facility dude shows up. BOOM. He shoots landlord/roommate, who falls down dead. BOOM. He shoots lizard man, who falls down dead. BOOM. He shoots Eliza, she is most definitely dead. But wait, landlord/roommate isn’t dead. BOOM. He gets up and hits evil dude in the head with a crowbar or something. BOOM. Evil guy dies. And then BOOM. Barnacle Boy isn’t dead either, it turns out he has magical powers that bring him back to life. He takes a swipe at evil guy’s throat. BOOM. Evil guy actually dies this time. I think. Finally, Mermaid Man jumps into the water with Eliza in his arms. BOOM. She comes to life, and also she has gills now. They live happily ever after. Maybe?

The music was good. The cinematography was good. “The Shape of Water” was an adult fairy tale with a lot of potential that would have benefitted from several more rounds of edits and rewrites.

Overall: 3.5/5 stars

My wintertime travel packing list

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Michał Parzuchowski

I am leaving next week for a long-awaited vacation, and I cannot wait! The pre-travel jitters are already getting to me. Here is my personal wintertime travel packing list, which I have finessed over the course of the past few years.

Toiletries

Liquid

  • Toothpaste
  • Contact solution
  • Backup pair of contacts
  • Vaseline for dry lips

Non-Liquid

  • Toothbrush
  • Makeup wipes
  • Panty liners
  • Floss
  • Contact lens case
  • Comb
  • Deodorant

Makeup

Liquid

  • Moisturizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Foundation primer
  • Eye primer
  • Liquid foundation

Non-Liquid

  • Eyeshadow
  • Liquid eyeliner
  • Makeup brushes
  • Powder foundation
  • Bronzer
  • Blush
  • Lipstick
  • Small hand mirror

Electronics

  • Camera and USB cable
  • Universal adapter
  • Phone charger
  • Portable charger and cable

Legal and Financial

  • Passport
  • Scanned copy of passport bio page
  • Local US consulate contact info
  • USD $50 (emergencies only)
  • ATM card
  • Credit and debit cards

Clothing

  • Winter jacket
  • Sweater
  • Thermal undershirts
  • Thermal leggings
  • Jeans
  • Regular crew socks
  • Wool socks
  • Rainboots
  • Scarf
  • Glasses
  • Underwear

Miscellaneous

  • Pen
  • Small notepad
  • Books or kindle? TBD

For this trip, I will probably use just two pieces of carry-on: my trusty small rolling suitcase and a simple messenger bag. Can’t wait!

6 cooking mistakes I’ve made over the years

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I have been cooking for over 10 years, yet for nearly nine of those years my culinary skills had plateaued. I didn’t know any recipes beyond what my parents had taught me (i.e., basic Chinese home dishes). I didn’t know how to ‘elevate the profile of a dish,’ as they say on MasterChef, and I didn’t realize how important it was to keep a pantry of staple ingredients that every home chef needs in their kitchen.

Now that I have moved into my own studio apartment, my interest in learning to cook better has improved exponentially. In the last few months, I have learned to cook steak, catfish, and salmon, and to make pilaf, steamed pork buns, Thai drunken noodles, beef casserole tortilla dip, and more.

Here are some of the cooking mistakes I’ve just now realized I have been making for eight or nine years. This list will no doubt continue to grow as I make progress in my cooking journey.

  1. Thinking steak needs to be thin, and also using the wrong type of steak

I don’t know why or how this idea even took root in my mind, but I was convinced that I had to slice a one-inch steak into two half-inch steaks, or the end product would be too raw (cringe!). I also used chuck meat the first time I cooked steak, and it turned out rubbery and tough to chew. I recently used a 1.5-inch sirloin steak from Trader Joe’s, and it turned out much better.

  1. Giving up when the dough was too wet to knead

For a long time, I thought I would never be able to make a proper mantou, or steamed meat buns, or anything that involved a dough, because the doughs I made were always extremely wet and sticky. What I didn’t realize was that you can just make it unsticky by using your hands and a bowl of flour. Now, when I have the dough roughly formed in the bowl, I scatter a handful of flour on top, dip my hands in more flour, grab the dough, and turn it around. I keep adding more handfuls of flour until the dough is malleable in my hand.

  1. Not using the right ingredients for dough-mixing

Yes, the recipe may say you need a certain amount of milk and a bowl of water (the latter for mixing the yeast), but it doesn’t always say that that shit needs to be warmed up first. Once I used cold water for the yeast, and the dough didn’t rise as a result. You will get a smoother, fluffier, more malleable dough if you warm the milk and the water up in the microwave for 30 seconds before mixing.

  1. Not waiting for the pan to warm up when making pancakes

I screwed up pancakes horribly the first two times I tried to make them, because I didn’t realize the pan had to be HOT beforehand. To make pancakes in my cast iron, I have to heat the skillet itself on the stove for five minutes first before I even add oil to it. (Not olive oil though, as the smoking point is super high! Peanut or canola oil are good for this.)

Also, chocolate chip pancakes are… actually… not that good. Pancakes are already sufficiently sweet, and the chips really elevate them to diabetes territory.

  1. Not using simple but key ingredients that make dishes better.

This includes: lemons/lime; butter; garlic; olive oil; black/red pepper; kosher salt; chives and green onions; milk; creme fraiche; parsley; basil… I now keep all of them well-stocked.

  1. Not freezing excess bread

Not really a cooking mistake, but it boggles my mind how many pieces of bread I let go moldy after a couple of days! I now know you can just freeze the ones you can’t eat in time, and microwave the frozen bread for 30 seconds before toasting them. (I use a regular pan to toast them; about 3 minutes on each side, on a bed of melted butter, with the lid closed and the heat low.)

Working weird hours this week and everything is terrible

As of the writing of this (2:21am) I am on day 2 of 3 days working on central European time, due to a very large conference in Stockholm that most of my coworkers are attending. Officially my hours are 2am-11am, but unofficially it’s been more like 12am-12pm.

I am dizzy. My biological clock is mush.

And I have discovered that the actual worst thing about working odd hours is that you are COMPLETELY ISOLATED AND FATIGUED. It’s dark out, everyone is sleeping, and it feels like I am back in school pulling an all-nighter. I am drinking coffee and pigging out on McDonald’s because I’ve been too tired to cook. As the sun starts to come up, I put on NPR in the background just to hear the sound of a human voice even though hearing live and constant updates about this massacre in Las Vegas is making me sick and sad.

I hate this.

(BUT NOT THE OVERTIME PAY. THAT PART IS AWESOME.)

On turning 26

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People-watching at Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris this summer.

I recently turned 26. Thanks to Obamacare, we now have a modern definition of exactly what constitutes adulthood in America, and that is the day you are officially kicked off your parents’ health plan for good. This is why turning 26 feels a little special–I am, according to society, Someone Who Now Has Her Shit Together.

And I do, for the most part, thank God. I have a full-time job, a mid-level career at a nonprofit, working with civil society organizations across the world to further a meaningful cause. I graduated with a master’s degree earlier this year. I recently moved out of a group house and into my own studio apartment, which I keep clean and tidy on a daily basis. I brew my own lattes and mochas with a stovetop faux-espresso maker. I own two plants that I have managed to keep alive thus far.

But there’s a lot of uncertainty, too, things that keep me up at night. I have a massive amount of student loan debt–more than I make in a year, payments that leave me essentially breaking even after rent and groceries each month. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now. Trying for the foreign service again? Living in a different country? Or feeling stuck? I am alone, and sometimes lonely. And then of course there’s the disastrous political insurgency that has crippled this country. The DC region has the highest concentration of anxiety and neurosis per capita I’ve ever seen–and that shit is contagious, yo.

One more thing I’ll mention about getting older: I am hungry all the time. Like all. The. Time. I am watching my calorie intake with an app, and I am exercising more, but still. How am I not 200 lbs yet?!

 

My new studio apartment

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In August, I moved from a three-bedroom house to a studio apartment. My rent went up by $300 a month, but I have to say — so worth it. I’m now a 15-minute bus ride from work and a block from the metro. The building has a concierge that holds mail for you, so I no longer have to worry about packages being stolen off my porch. I can go in the kitchen and cook whenever I want, without having to share the counters or entertain small talk. There are cons, too, of course: just this Saturday, the entire building was evacuated twice, at 6pm and 1am, due to faulty fire alarms going off. I can sometimes hear my neighbor singing loudly at midnight. And when I cook, the smell permeates through the entire apartment. But overall I would say, again, WORTH IT.

I’ve finally finished decorating the apartment, so here are some pictures. Mad respect to people who take photos for house tours on Apartment Therapy. They make it look so easy, but it’s actually hard af trying to get everything to fit within the frame. Here goes. Continue reading