Friday, August 28, 2015

weekend fun: return to the north

everything is so photogenic up here!

A few months ago, one of my oldest friends and I decided that we wanted to do a couple's trip up north this summer before C and I move. We decided to spend four days and three nights up north at a cabin and spend time exploring the area, taking advantage of the trails and lakes near the cabin. I was looking forward to it for months and the trip itself absolutely didn't disappoint! We stayed in the same area that C and I stayed in last year with his family, so it was pretty fun to show our fellow travelers the area since they had never come this far north before.

The first day was spent mostly making our way up to the cabin itself, but we stopped at a historic mansion for a tour at the halfway point. The weather was gorgeous, though it was a bit hot in the sun. We arrived too early for a tour, so we spent some time right by the lake enjoying the sunshine and the wind coming off the lake. The views were absolutely gorgeous! Eventually we made our way through the tour (which was absolutely stunning) and kept going on our way to the cabin!

Monday, August 24, 2015

supporting local makers

instantly fell in love with all things herbal's northwoods cottage scent

I like to buy handmade or small business whenever it is fiscally and practically possible. Although the majority of my makeup and skincare is made up of conventional big-business products that are probably made in batches of the hundred thousands, I still love the feel of homemade or handmade. I know that many of us understand what it feels like to put love, time, and a personal standard of perfection in something that we do - whether that be something you do at your workplace or something you do as a hobby, such as crafting or even blogging. Since I have a sense of what it feels like to dedicate time and effort into something, I like supporting people who put (what I can only imagine to be) even more time and effort into running their own businesses. One of my best friends from college actually did a double major in both English and art and I am a proud owner of some of her originals, either that I bought myself or were very kindly gifted to me. I still have these pieces with me and have brought them along on my many little sojourns.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


shot of lanterns from 祇園祭 taken at another transitional time in my life

I am someone who tends to get worked up over changes in life - even changes that are objectively good or changes that I am actually looking forward to. At some level I know that change needs to happen in life because, without change, how can any progress be made. That being said, I've discovered that I become the most anxious in moments of transition where I move from one state (maybe both literally and figuratively) to the next. I am currently in a moment of flux as I move from the place I will always call home to a place with new possibilities which pleases me and excites me a great deal.

I'll miss having my mother so close the most. My mother and I are incredibly close and I value her insights, her humor, and her kindness so much, which makes it difficult to think that I won't have quick access to the comfort she brings. Thankfully, with the nature of my job and my partner's job (as a soon-to-be-inducted double PhD student) we can come back for holidays and random visits much more regularly. His family is from the same state and he is also close to his family, so coming home is important to him as well.

All in all the changes are good and I am basically living a best-case-scenario life here in terms of my job, my location, and such. Yet, there is the lingering sense that a chapter is closing in my life and that from this point on things can't return to the way they were. At the end of the day, I am thankful that I have people (and a bichon-poo) around me who help me with all the inevitable transitions in life - what could be better than that?

Here's to new beginnings and continuing the sojourn!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

review: tony moly aloe vera moisturizing face mask

tony moly - i'm real - aloe face mask sheet (moisturizing)

I've used a few sheet masks in the past but mostly used Japanese brands since, until recently, sheet masks were not terribly popular in the West and I've had access to Japanese products through my annual trips. However, Japanese cosmetics and skin care are very hard to get a hold of in the United States and my work life has been such that I haven't been able to go abroad as often as I used to, so now I either wait for friends to send along a few sheet masks or I go for what is available in the U.S.! Lately I've noticed a lot of Korean skin care brands have been making their way to the Western market - including Tony Moly.

I've been seeing their products in Sephora (where I bought this mask) and have been hearing a lot of good things both about the brand specifically and about Korean products in general. I decided to take the plunge after my skin has been going through a dry spell, probably brought on by the air conditioning on this summer (it's the humidity that'll kill you!). I've also found that moisturizing masks are a pretty safe starting point regardless of your skin type - I have sensitive skin that tends towards breakouts and I haven't had problems with the moisturizing masks I've tried in the past. This one from Tony Moly was no exception!

The packaging, like all Tony Moly products, is so cute! I love the bright colors and stylized graphics, plus there are clear directions on the back for anyone who is new to the whole sheet mask world. As a warning: be careful when you first open the package, because there is a lot of serum in the bag and I received a bit of a spray when I opened mine up. This was also a problem when I first put the actual sheet mask on my face because I initially found that some of the serum dripped down my neck. I guess the it is marketed as moisturizing! That being said, the sheer volume of serum wasn't too much of an issue and I ended up just massaging the excess into my neck.

I left the mask on for about 20-25 minutes, which fell between the 20-30 minute time-frame they list on the package. Once I removed the mask there was still a lot of the serum left on my face, so I patted that in my face as well. I usually use the Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate religiously each night, but since the serum from the mask was so rich I decided to skip the night oil and see what happened. Fast-forward to the next morning and all my dry patches were completely gone! My face definitely felt deeply moisturized and there were no new breakouts caused by the mask.


Now, is this mask worth the price? Unfortunately for those of us who live in the West (particularly in places where there are no large Asian markets near by) we have to pay a higher price at places like Sephora. This mask came in a pack of two for $7.50 which is not terribly cheap for a face mask. However, I am someone who doesn't use masks as often so this was a fun little buy for me to try out. I think I will save these masks for situations where my skin just needs that extra boost, but not necessarily keep them as part of my skincare routine.

Overall, I loved this mask and thought it did a fantastic job - I'm looking forward to my next Japan trip when I'll stock up on these goodies!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

the problem of comparison

This particular post has been percolating in my mind for a while now because this is a topic that is too near and not very dear to my heart. Comparison is something that seems to be more or less hard-wired into the the human psyche; we compare options when we shop, when we consider what career to pursue, what partner to settle down with, and so on. In many contexts comparison is beneficial and helps us narrow down our options in life. However, I think some of us are prone to a more detrimental form of comparison: comparing ourselves to others.

Before I go too much further, I should clarify that I don't think that comparison is inherently terrible. I always compare myself to other people and have done so for many, many years. Taking note of what others are doing often inspires me to keep working on my own projects and we all need that slight kick in the butt once in a while. That being said, I do believe that there comes a point where comparison tears you down more than it inspires you or builds you up. As someone who does tend towards more negative thoughts, I find that comparison quickly leads to discouragement or sorrow, both of which can quickly spiral into days or weeks of gloom. My loved ones began to notice how down I would become and as we tried to talk through the depression, we came to realize that a lot of it stems from my tendency to compare my life and situation to others around me. As soon as that lightbulb went off in my mind, I made a concerted effort to stop comparing myself to other people and, to be honest, it proved to be much more difficult to stop than I thought it would! Old habits do die hard.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

staying in the loop

I have recently found how difficult it can be to maintain independent study or research when you are not officially affiliated with any institution - whether you are coming out of undergraduate studies or a graduate institution. As I've mentioned in my previous post, I quickly learned that there are many paths to graduate study; some paths are more direct while others seem to be involve a lot of meandering. Many incredibly inspiring (and brilliant) people I encountered within a graduate setting were considerably older than I was, yet they are currently pursuing a PhD. For many of them there was a significant gap between their undergrad/Master's program and their current PhD programs, but they managed to keep their studies going even when they found themselves outside the walls of higher ed. As someone who has ultimately decided to decline a PhD offer and take some more time off, I have struggled with balance and motivation in personal study. One thing that has been on my mind a lot is the question of how to stay in the loop with what is happening in your field.

Most people can easily see why medical professionals or researchers need to stay on top of the latest studies/concepts that pop up in their field - if you're not in the know, you could do some damage to someone. It's a little bit harder to convince people that those of us in the humanities also need to keep up with the latest ideas. But just like other fields there are trends and new discoveries happening within the humanities that could potentially change the way you are approaching your own research. The problem is how to remain connected to your field if you aren't currently affiliated with a university because, let's face it, access to a lot of the journals we need to read are not cheap!

One way I stay in tune with what's happening within my own realm of research is, perhaps surprisingly, Twitter. Many scholars, journals, publishing houses, and graduate interest groups are very active on Twitter and post resources on a whole host of academic related topics. Some accounts are very pragmatic and post tips on improving writing or time management: I find GradHacker to be a very fun resource because it is written by current graduate students. Even if you yourself are not in a program, the contributors present ideas that can be good guidelines for those of us outside higher ed. One article I particularly like is on how to approach PhD coursework. Other accounts I follow for graduate topics are: Vitae, Inside Higher Ed, and (for a lot of laughs) Sh*t Academics Say. All of these accounts will also link to outside blog posts for more info as well! I find Twitter a nice practical option for the alternative academic, because it gives you a bit of academia each day to tide you over.

As I try to keep in tune with what's going on within my own areas of interest, I have also run up against the issue to getting your hands on materials. If you are like me and working in a field where the texts can get pretty expensive (yes, I'm talking about you, Strange Encounters!) I make a bee-line to my local library page to check out the state-wide Interlibrary Loan system. I admit that this is not really paradigm-shifting information in any way, but it doesn't hurt to remind people how amazing a lot of library systems can be. I have been able to get my hands on almost every single book that I have searched for so far, even ones that I had expected to be more elusive (including Strange Encounters!). If I can't get my hands on a text, but I am sure that it would be really useful for my studies, I do bite the bullet and get the Kindle editions which tend to be cheaper than hardcopy editions.

These are just two ways that I myself have been trying to keep up to date with research. Thankfully with the information age that we live in it is much, much easier to stay in the loop with all the online resources that are available. As always, I'd love to hear any ideas you guys have (regardless of what you are studying) and would love to get some fresh ideas!

Monday, February 9, 2015

you can always keep learning

I know I definitely have a bias when it comes to educational topics because, let's face it, the majority of my life has either involved actual enrollment/participation in education or teaching in an educational setting. Plus, my current goal is to enroll in a PhD program in order to ultimately be able to teach in a college setting. Clearly, learning in general holds a place in my heart. Going through a Master's program was a great step for me both academically and personally (though to be honest my finances did not come out unscathed, yikes!), but it also opened my eyes to what learning - even at an Ivy Plus, private research university - can look like.

One misconception that I held before enrolling at UChicago was that most people went straight from undergraduate studies into a PhD program. And those of us who didn't make it in right away either only took one year off, we weren't smart enough, or we had some Event in our lives that barred us from going. This is probably the most incorrect (and narrow-minded) idea I think I have ever held. When I started coursework at the university, I was surprised to see so many students who were a good deal older than I was - and I am talking about a good 10+ year age difference. In fact, I would say the majority of the students had taken a significant amount of time off after they completed their Bachelor's degree. Furthermore, as I spoke to more faculty members, it became clear that a lot of admissions committees looked favorably on going out into the world and gaining experience - go figure, right?

I am currently in the midst of a gap year, waiting to hear if I'll be entering a PhD program this fall, or taking another route. While I used to see a PhD as the be-all-end-all of my life, I have come to realize that there is nothing stopping me from continuing to engage in my love for academia. I might not have an institution attached to my name to give me academic "cred", but I can still dig deeper into the theories and ideas that truly capture my fascination. And I think this is an important thing to keep in mind: you can always keep learning, especially when whatever you are studying is something you are really passionate about. Most of the books that I enjoy reading are fairly obscure texts, but I can easily find them through interlibrary loans at my local library. This is true for any other type of knowledge you might be seeking. For example, I enjoy knitting and I like trying out new techniques, but I don't have any knitting gurus near me who can show me what to do - so I turn to YouTube videos. There is an abundance of ways to keep expanding your knowledge base and most of them are very easy to access.

At the end of the day what I care about is learning and always continuing to learn because there is so much that I do not know. There are many misconceptions that I am sure that I still hold on to while also remaining blind to their existence. Regardless of academic cred, or lack thereof, I'll keep learning.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

more thoughts on positivity

A week ago I wrote a post on how I personally keep myself positive. The more I thought about the notion of positivity and the more I have come to realize how much of a buzzword it is across the blogosphere right now (I guess it's part of the zeitgeist), I felt that there was a little more that needed to be said.

One thing I feel the need to clarify is the fact that although I do believe (from personal experience) that being positive is a healthier mindset to have in general, I do not believe in positivity in the sense of the law of attraction. I do believe that this type of thinking is true to an extent - for example, I find that when you always believe less of yourself, you tend to not be as successful, because you cannot visualize yourself succeeding. You absolutely can set up mental blocks for yourself that inhibit your ability to succeed. There is definitely some truth to the idea that having a positive mindset will lead to positive outcomes. That being said, if you do wish to go along with this worldview, you would need to agree with it's secondary implication: that if bad things are happening to you, it is because you are not thinking the right types of positive thoughts. In other words, you are not positive enough.

I do have a bone to pick with the law of attraction when you extrapolate its basic premise out to its logically conclusion: that good things will come to you if you think positive thoughts and bad things will come to you if you have negative thoughts. This view of positivity came out most clearly in the book The Secret and I will be honest will you: I believe that this worldview is incredibly privileged and places blame on individuals who are themselves victims of circumstances outside of their ability to "think the bad away". The universe is not that simple and placing the fault on someone's mindset is ridiculous, to be quite frank. If we are to actually follow through with what The Secret and books like it are contending, we would (logically) have to state that those in poverty are there not because of wide-spread and well-documented systemic prejudice...but because of their thoughts?  

I believe that focusing so much on the law of attraction-esque mindset is unfair to those who are going through difficult circumstances that are wholly outside of their control - let alone outside of their modes of thinking. It is not fair to simply tell someone to "be more positive" when they are struggling with depression, with abuse, with tragic loss, etc. Rather than telling these individuals that they need to be positive about their circumstances, we should be saying to them: yes, that really sucks and I will help you, as much as I can, to make things suck less.

There is a balance that has to be maintained between positivity and admitting when things are terrible, and outside of your control. A really pertinent example of this is the disproportionate number of people of color who are killed at the hands of police. The same thing could be said of children who are victims of violence that are completely and utterly unprovoked (such as the terribly Sandy Hook shooting). Are these deaths due to individuals' inability to be positive? At what age are individuals responsible for the bad things that happen to them because they did not "think good thoughts"?

And this is where my criticism lies with the law of attraction: it does not hold up to genuine critique once you move it outside of its own perimeters. Just to be clear here, I do believe that being positive is the better route to take, I truly do. However, I have been seeing so many posts on Positivity lately (and specifically the type of positivity that is laid out in the law of attraction) that I felt that I needed to be more clear on what my personal definition of positivity is. I believe that there are many, many aspects of your life that can be improved by staying positive - but I would never agree that positivity is the only thing that governs what happens to us.

Monday, February 2, 2015

burrantando's sloth yarn bowl

I have been an avid knitter since college and I still like to make time to have something going on my knitting needles. My boyfriend has been the recipient of a few of my creations so he is quite familiar with my love of knitting. For Christmas this year we decided to get each other one "big" item and as a kind of random fluke - or maybe a case of "great minds think alike" - we got each other something that encouraged our respective hobbies. I got him an autographed book on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (his main hobby) and he got me a yarn bowl!

A good friend of mine showed me a link to an Etsy store called Burrantando Ceramics and I instantly fell in love with their designs. I then showed my boyfriend some of my favorites and, lo and behold, a month later, I got my very own Ceramic Baby Sloth Yarn Bowl! I am in love with this little guy. Not only is he really adorable, he is also really useful; I took him out of his packaging and immediately put him to use. Even when not in use, I can leave him out around the house for decoration - so practical and cute! One thing that I am particularly fond of is the fact that when you put a yarn ball inside the bowl, it looks like he is hugging it. The quality is superb and the fact that they were kind enough to etch in a sweet little note on the bottom made it even more personal. I make it a point to buy handmade when I can and I am ecstatic to add this little cutie to my collection.

Although this was meant to be a Christmas present, due to the fact that each piece is made-to-order and because it was shipping internationally, I just got my Christmas present late last week. However, after holding it in person, in retrospect I definitely don't mind the wait. One thing to note about this seller is that (according to my boyfriend) the shipping was pretty steep. Again, this is something that is to be expected especially considering how fragile the product is and how far it came from - but that is still something to keep in mind before you make your purchase.

I am so happy with this gift and, being me, I couldn't help but go back to their website and take a peek at a few more of their designs. Seals are my second favorite animals (after otters), so I squealed when I saw these two designs. I am also partial to these little polar bear figurines. Overall, this is one of my favorite Christmas gifts ever and I am so happy with it!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

on staying positive

A new year inevitably means new year's resolutions. I haven't had strict "resolutions" for the past few years, because my resolutions are always pretty much the same: keep exercising, keep reading, and keep budgeting. In fact, my Book List/Currently Reading tab began as a way to keep track of the books I read at a time when I had fallen out of the habit of reading for fun. Ever since I took off the pressure of making "New Years Resolutions", I found that I was more successful at achieving my three simple goals. I just used the new year as a time to remind myself to stick to these three lifestyle choices.

However, I did want to add in another mini-resolution for 2015: staying positive.

I know that positivity is kind of a buzzword within the blogging community right now and I think that it's a great thing that a lot of people are talking about it. For one thing, it's a great reminder when you see another person post about positivity. More importantly, it's fun to see how others keep themselves focused on staying positive, because we all have different activities that put us in a positive headspace. Getting a range of ideas for staying positive only gives you more material to work with!

Here's what I do to stay positive:

- surround yourself with positive people // I have seen this one on a number of lists and for good reason. I am definitely someone who sucks up emotion (particularly negative emotions) like a sponge, so if I am constantly around negative people, then I become negative too. I think that more people see certain emotions as being particularly contagious: Sara Ahmed writes that "Anxiety is sticky: rather like Velcro, it tends to pick up whatever comes near". I think the same can be said for positivity as well, which is why I try to surround myself with people who are intentionally positive.

- force yourself to refocus // I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to falling into negativity. For various reasons I also tend to lean more towards negativity than I'd like to admit. To combat that tendency, I started keeping a special notebook in which I write down five things I am thankful for each day. I heard on NPR's "The Science of Happiness" that the happiest (i.e. the most positive) people were also those who were the most grateful. It's easy to forget the many good aspects of your life when you are hitting an emotionally low point. However, I've found that manually changing my perspective and making myself write down the good things in my life has made me a more positive person.

- learn to think long-term // Sometimes the things that make us more negative are situational. Often times this means that you can't always remove yourself from the person or situation that is causing you to be more negative. This could be something like loss of a job, family issues, or financial issues. What helps me during moments of situational negativity is to remember to think long-term. Whatever the situation is, it will not be that way forever. In the meantime, take care of yourself and do as much as you can to keep yourself positive - whether that be teaching yourself a new skill, pouring new energy into hobbies, or even exercising. Taking your mind off the problem and looking toward the future definitely helps to but some things in perspective.

How do you keep yourself positive?

Monday, January 26, 2015

from the bookshelf: non-fiction

I have already compiled (some) of my favorite fiction books in two previous posts, but I decided to do another book-centric post focusing on some of my favorite non-fiction books. I'm going to do a bit of a grab-bag here since "non-fiction" is such a wide umbrella term for anything from history books, essays, academic articles, how-to books, and so on. So here are a few of my favorite non-fiction reads from my bookshelf!

Bomb Power by Gary Wills
One of my side interests includes the communities that pop up around the creation of the atomic bomb, along with the emotional resonance the a-bomb has as a cultural symbol. Gary Wills does a fantastic job of breaking down how the atomic bomb has a profound cultural, social, and psychological impact on those who created the bomb in the first place. Although the bomb is sent to demolish an enemy, no one on either end of the bomb remains unscathed. Fun fact: The Manhattan Project (the group charged to create the atomic bomb during WWII) was heavily tied to the University of Chicago, so I was able to go through the archives and read through actual documents from the Manhattan Project while I was working on my thesis! Nearly all documents including memos, letters, notebooks, and actual physicis...stuff, are in UChicago's archives. The nerd in me was OVERJOYED. 

The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson is the stuff of high school English classes and I am guessing that at some point (especially if you attended school in the United States) you have already read a few of these essays - does the idea of turning into a giant transparent eyeball sound familiar? I believe that I read Emerson's essays when I first began attending college at the age of sixteen and something about his style of writing really caught my attention right away. In fact, it was such an obsession that one of my friends bought me a hard copy of Emerson's essays which remains with me to this day (see above photo!).

Empathic Vision by Jill Bennett
This book played a huge role in my Master's thesis and continues to be a text I repeatedly go back to. I will admit that it is a very dense book, because it delves deeply into both affect theory and trauma studies. However, what I like about it is the way that Bennett focuses on how art (visual art) can become a means through which trauma and affect can be discussed. A really fascinating read for anyone who is interested in art, theory, and socio-political issues.

Japan's Total Empire by Louisa Young
I am continually surprised how little many people in the West really know about what went on in the Pacific during WWII. As someone who is Japanese and as someone who studies texts from the WWI/WWII era, I make it a point to read up on as much history as I can. So when a friend of mine suggested this book to me, I decided to give it a shot. As terrible as it is to read about atrocities that one's country has committed, it is even more terrible to ignore what happened in the past. This book addresses the political and economic relationship between Manchuria and Japan, as well as the historical events that led up to Japan's involvement in Manchuria. It was a very insightful and eye-opening book.

Fair Isle Knitting by Alice Starmore
Now for something very different - a knitting book! Knitting is one of my favorite hobbies and the fair isle style is my absolute favorite style. I have done quite a bit of stranded knitting in my time, but I am nowhere near skilled enough to pull off many of these designs. My favorite part of this book (aside from all the great patterns) is how the colors and features of the natural landscape inspire certain patterns - there are a lot of great side-by-side shots showing the colors of nature alongside a knitted pattern that was inspired by the landscape. It's a great book to page through for inspiration!

This is a great reminder to reread some of these favorites!

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