bleh. again. Or, a tribute to walks in the woods.

I had one of those days where I did basically nothing.  I've been battling myself to optimize my time usage and boost my productivity, which will be discussed in a later post, but it backfired today.  In some ways it was wonderful, but in other ways it was incredibly frustrating.  I painted for fifteen minutes.  I dumped out a drawer of clothes to put it back almost exactly as it was.  I made lunch.  These were the highlights of the day up until about 5 o'clock.  I found myself looking for games online and unread books on our shelves--I'm already reading half a dozen books, why start a new one out of boredom?  I was unfocused, undirected, and unorganized but trying to fill my time with some semblance of meaningful activity.  Awful.

So I took a walk.

A long, lovely walk through the woods.  I discovered a few new trails, watched the geese fly overhead, and sent some deer running with their white tails flashing.  It cleared my mind unbelievably well.  I need to take a walk every day.

I came home, made dinner, and am now able to enjoy/use the remainder of the day.  Tangentially, dinner was lentil soup with two tiny savory pastries for each of us.  The filling (which was really more like a topping, since they didn't keep their shapes): goat cheese, lime juice and spinach.  Way yum.  I even tried making my own pastry dough, which was pretty good for being a shortcut variety (lots of folding, but minimal chilling).  Eventually I'll try the full-fledged version when I get a marble board, but that's likely a ways off.  Regardless, life was obviously a lot better after the walk.


random stuff

These are just a few things that have been floating across my radar...the kind of links where I leave their tabs open for a few days because I don't want to forget about them yet for whatever reason.

Where Children Sleep - a documentary book with pictures of children from all over the world and where they sleep

25 Women-Run Startups - a list of startups with female founders and CEOs

a recent BBC video of an amazonian uncontacted tribe

and a shout out for the Liahona Children's Foundation


The Privilege of Rights

This is the final installment of a series of three mini-essays on privilege. The first two are here and here.

As western society has evolved, it has declared a certain set of freedoms and entitlements to be called rights. The United States' Declaration of Independence proclaimed, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

As the US government evolved, the Bill of Rights was written, setting out a number of familiar rights: freedoms of speech and assembly, the right ro bear arms, etc..  Further amendments to the constitution have been added since, many of which included some concept of rights.  Other western countries have similar concepts reflected in their relative governments: there is the British Bill of Rights of 1689, the German Grundgesetz of 1949, and Title 2 of the Swiss Federal Constitution, among others.  Furthermore, the United Nations' International Bill of Human Rights was passed 1948.

When it comes to rights, there is a lot of disagreement.  Contemporarily, the LGBTQ community is fighting for the right of same-sex couples to marry in the US, though they are free to so in other countries.  China is known for limiting some freedoms we take for granted in the States.  Several international human rights organizations condemn North Korea for being brutal to its people.  Philosophically, there is a distinction between legal and natural rights, the latter being along the lines of the "unalienable rights" mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.  The problem is, like in all things philosophical, there are differing opinions of what natural rights entail, thus countries have varying degrees of freedoms and individuals are proponents of a wide spectrum of diverse sets of rights.

Rights, however, are merely privileges clothed in legal or philosophical disguises--privileges that we should have, for whatever reason.  As individuals, we can be aware of the history of these privileges and of the current legal climate, domestically and internationally.  We should formulate our own opinions and theories about natural rights.  If we see these rights being violated, we can defend them.  Rights are privileges that are not necessarily finite--you can't run out of freedom of speech--and so supporting and sharing these privileges can cost very little.  And as always, we can be grateful for the privileges we possess.


my new sewing machine!

I've been plotting to make this purchase for a while and finally did so.  Having done all my sewing by hand for the past two years or so, it was high time I get a sewing machine.  My pick: the Janome Sewist 500.

While I've mostly done mending and simple garments in the past, I've wanted to try quilting and some larger projects, so I got a machine versatile enough to handle a lot of different things without being too fancy--no need for 200 kinds of stitches or embroidery.  (I will likely always prefer hand-embroidery.  Machine-work looks it.)

In-store, they demoed it plowing through six layers of thin denim, which was rather impressive.  It also has a finishing stitch, which means I wont need a serger.  Another perk is that the place I bought it from has unlimited free one-on-one classes with their in-house teacher.

Having torn my skirt on a walk up to campus this evening, I had a chance to try it out when I got home and it's amazing.  I re-hemmed the entire skirt and it felt like near no work at all.  Maybe this means I'll actually be able to make a dent in my mending, let alone any of my other half-formed projects.

I've been calling it "Mons," which is short for "Monster" since its one-toothed humming drives N absolutely nuts.  Perhaps its full name will be "The One Fanged Monster."


defining oneself

Last night N and I took a university-organized trip up to see Jersey Boys on Broadway.  It was lots of fun, and both of us were surprised by how many songs we knew and how interesting the plot was.  Overall, it was well worth the trip.  The show, however, is only the starting point for my ramblings.

On the bus ride home, several people near us were talking about the time zone of Australia.  There were lots of silly things about this conversation that N and I nitpicked later (like the fact that Australia has multiple time zones), but the gist of it was they they couldn't determine if Australia was ahead of or behind US Eastern time.  They needed a smartphone to figure it out.

While eavesdropping, I worked through it pretty quickly: Australia is west of the international date line and the sun rises in the isn't that hard.  I thought to myself that while I don't know facts like "Australia is X to Y hours ahead of location B," I have a good grasp of general facts that allow me to figure things out.  I've always been that way: logic over memorization.

Preening my ego, I began to think about usefulness and how I was a generally useful person, being able to figure out such silly things and all, but was soon deflated because of the thought that usefulness is so vague.  Lots of people do interesting, amazing, and productive things, but usefulness is one of those things that is entirely relative.  Sure, I might be good at cooking, but how about singing?  Definitely not good at that one.  I can write computer programs, but I'm totally twisted up when it comes to fixing cars.  People's abilities vary, and we rely on each other to create a beautiful, full world.

Humbled again, I began to think about how we define ourselves as people.  In the Australia case, I was defining myself as "useful" and thinking about all the things I can do.  I feel like as humans we do a lot of self-definition, or at least I do.  I am that, I do this, I would never..., I always....

One fragment of our self-definition comes from our possessions, partly because it is one way of allowing others to see how we see ourselves.  Clothes are strongly tied with identity in many cases, as are gadgets, books, etc.  We even use how little or much stuff we have as a label, e.g. "I'm a minimalist."  These things or lack thereof stand out because they are physical, which means they are easy tools to use, especially since so many of them come pre-loaded with stereotypes.  As a society, we'll always use the visual clues to guide us in classifying others: everything from high school molds to various types of religious modesty and dress.  As long as we are willing to accept individuals beyond those first impressions, it's okay, normal, and even helpful in navigating our insanely complicated social waters.

In addition to using objects to shape ourselves, we also like to make general statements like "I'm a nice person."  Self definition along these lines can boost our self esteem or throw us into a spiral of depression ("Nobody likes me.").  Ties to adjectives or blanket statements will always be broken.  Even nice people need to be selfish occasionally to survive, and those who think that they aren't likes are often surprised by how much love and concern others have for them.

I'm slowly learning that I need to just stop trying to define myself and just be myself.  (I just wrote pure cheese, my friends, but it needed to be said.)  I know my specific skills (cooking, programming, etc.) and use them.  My nice car doesn't appear to jive with my otherwise so-called hippy-style, but it's consistant for me.  I can identify plenty of ways I'd like to improve myself.  There are so many facets to being a person, that it isn't worth the time to try and box myself in.  ...and no, I'm not trying to call myself a "free spirit."


snow silliness

There's been plenty of snow in our first year in NJ and it looks like that's finally it for now.  We've had fun digging out our car and making all sorts of things out of snow.

Starting the end of winter break, N and I started taking regular strolls and play in the snow.  We started on an ice volcano (a.k.a. palace) and built up its walls until they closed together in a peak.   At its best, it was three feet tall or so.  I spent an hour on another snow project--a life-size sculpture of a woman--which toppled just as it started to look good.  Later, we made a lumpy igloo for two, which we had fun destroying when it started to melt and collapse.

The remaining snow is melting in fits and starts, but it has passed both its prime and the most dangerously icy days.  Spring is a bit far still, but I look forward to it.


The Privilege of Refusal

This is the second of three mini-essays on privilege; the first one is here.

I first began thinking of the privilege of refusal in my attempts to live a simpler, more minimalist life.  I came to the realization that I know when I rid myself of an item, I am able to replace it if I really need it after all.  It is safe for me to refuse or reject things because all of my needs are easily met.

Any time something is refused it is a manifestation of privilege, even if the individual refusing is in need of the offering.  Consider a hungry man who refuses a meal.  Why would he possibly do so?  It could easily be as a sacrifice for his child, because he chooses to adhere to a particular diet backed by moral or religious reasons, because he is confident of receiving food later by other means, or simply out of pride.  In each possibility, the man is blessed with a privilege that enables him to make that choice.

Many instances of selfishness are cases of opting-out of a community or a discussion: all forms of refusal.  When individuals are required to depend on and interact with each other, they are forced to give so that they can receive.  As an example, a lonely child will likely not refuse friendship, but that same child might easily forget the first friend when another more desirable one comes along.  The first's companionship is refused because the child has the privilege of another friend.

Refusal is powerful--it can cause waste and feelings of rejection in others.  It can make the privileges that enable it apparent to those who do not posses them.  It is much harder to eliminate than bragging, mostly because it has good sides too.  It can also reduce waste and enable generosity.  Given this power, how should we wield it?

Actions are often taken myopically, without considering the full impact of the decision, for better or worse.  However, if we were to consider the elaborate system of possibilities for every minute choice we make, we wouldn't accomplish anything; at some point we must act with an approximate understanding and move on.  Similar to the privilege of complaint, we can use refusal to help ourselves understand our privileges.  With introspection we can improve our approximate understanding of the world, hopefully allowing us to make better choices.


I received an admissions email from Princeton yesterday!  I'm quite intimidated...N keeps saying "I don't know why you want to do that to yourself," but he's in the process of being broken in, and I'm sure I'll go through the same.  Lots of work ahead, but I'm gunna get me a PhD!


a case of the crazies

It's February.  This means that I'm very anxiously awaiting responses from the graduate programs I applied to end of last year.  I shouldn't hear back until mid-month, but it weighs on me.  That plus cold enough weather that I need to stay indoors most of the time has lead to a major case of the stir-crazies.

Food-wise, I baked eight loaves of french bread earlier this week, made my own chicken stock, concocted Zuni Cafe's Chard and Onion Panade with said bread and stock (and fell in love with Swiss chard--I couldn't recall having it before, can you believe it?), and made a simple but colorful pilaf with barley cooked in the stock, kidney beans, onions and Italian parsley.  The last item was pretty normal, but made for a nice picture (right).

Art-wise, I started a new oil painting and did a one-night watercolor landscape (below) for which we happened to have a fitting frame.  I've been practicing the guitar daily, which is a novelty, and started reading the 50 cent used copy of War and Peace which was re-discovered in a giant stack of books when started filling the new bookcase we bought last weekend.  (Incidentally, it still doesn't get rid of all of the book piles.)  N and I have also started building an igloo outside.

I suppose I'm always up to these same things in varying degrees, but I feel more crazed right now.  Oh!  One more thing: N and I made a pact to not spend more than one hour of goof-off time on the internet per day (I don't count writing blog entries because it's mildly creative in nature, but I do count reading news/blogs) and we both installed the Thyme application, which is helpful in monitoring that commitment.  The reason I mention that pact is because it's yet another contributing factor in my needing to distract myself--one of my defaults is now limited.  At this point, I almost just want to know one way or another.  N says we'll be celebrating either way.  Only a few more weeks to go.