Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Penny 'Saved'

I'm getting increasingly uncomfortable with people's rhetoric about "saving." A friend posted a link about someone who paid down $10,000 of credit card debt in a year by making his morning coffee at home instead of buying from a coffee shop, going from a two-car to a one-car family, "making do" with a pre-paid and more basic phone and plan, etc. Yesterday I was reading a post where a woman was asking about money-earning possibilities from home after where comment after comment recommended (rather unsolicitedly and completely ignoring the fact that she'd already stated how frugally they were living and only wanted to hear about income opportunities) she cut her cable subscription, go from two cars to one, get rid of a land line and/or go down to the basic cell plan, stop eating out, etc. What I want to know is why we consider having a $90 cable package, $80 cell phone plan, (multi-?)weekly restaurant visits, two cars, daily lattes, and the like the norm.

It's not really "saving" money to replace a daily $4 caffeinated beverage of choice with a 12-cent cup brewed at home; it's just not wasting it as egregiously. It's not being super-frugal to cut your cable package from all-inclusive super-deluxe premium package to basic cable + internet. It's really kind of offensive to read money-saving tips from people who assume that everyone is just handing huge sums of money out on a monthly basis to whomever asks for it in exchange for the merest convenience or entertainment. You don't need cable TV (I use a $10-a-month Netflix subscription for movies and free Hulu for the TV I watch; even that's unnecessary and could be cut were my straits direr or if I just decided to stop wasting so much time or kill so many brain cells); you don't need to buy coffee every morning (or, for that matter, drink coffee at all, heresy though that may appear); some people get by perfectly well without owning cars and aren't necessarily pursuing that out of desperation but as part of their regular life (though I do acknowledge that not everyone's current living/working situation makes that possible).

I find it highly ridiculous that either people think they're being frugal by paying slightly less for really pretty cushy and objectively superfluous, unnecessary, or even harmful things or that the average person isn't actually anywhere near that prodigal but thinks everyone else in the entire country is engaging in the utmost of hedonistic consumption. It's not like you get points simply for being below average consumption or that everyone deserves or is guaranteed a certain standard of living (well, yes, philosophically I think they do, but considerably lower than the one under discussion) and anything under that is virtuous abnegation and "doing without."

Of course, when it's money under discussion, income is quite relevant. If you make enough money to be able to afford all the above-listed things, I'm not saying they're inherently bad things to spend money on (though I personally hope to avoid them despite my income), but if you have tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt that you can pay off by cutting out coffee shop drinks and cable, I'd imagine the way you got it is exactly by making those expenditures to begin with. It is definitely, unequivocally not saving money to give up these things, then; it's simply not going (further) into debt, not living beyond your means.

This type of thinking is even worse when it comes to talk of "saving" energy. This NYT article reminded me of my increasing discomfort (though really its take is overall pretty good). It seems like people feel entitled to a certain amount of energy consumption and that the slightest bit of consumption under that activates feelings of deprivation or of virtuous forbearance. It's kind of silly to talk of "saving" water by turning off the tap while you're brushing your teeth (well, for one thing, does anyone actually not do this?) or by turning down/up the thermostat when you're not at home or by having your DVR player have the option to go into deep sleep when its not needed; in fact, you're using water, gas, or electricity to do any of these things and you're just not using/consuming/wasting as much when you turn things off or down.

The default is nothing. The earth didn't contract with us to permit us each X number of tons of carbon emission per year, Y gallons of water per day, or Z gallons of gas per week, and then it will start exacting penalties once those levels are reached. Each of these things we consume harms our environment or climate; the goal is to use as little as possible, not simply less than what's "reasonable" for a person living in a developed nation in modern times. (Money, as I said, is a little different since you do in fact have a certain amount you can spend up to and no further.)

I don't watch TV; I turn my computer off when I'm not using it; I unplug my cell charger when it's not actually charging my phone; I don't let water run when I'm not actively using it; I walk and take public transportation rather than driving; I don't eat resource-intensive beef or overly processed foods; I don't have air conditioning and keep the heater on a timer and still pretty low even when I'm home; I don't replace things like my MP3 player until they break even if they're crappy and better ones exist. I could (and, yeah, pretty much still do) feel holier-than-thou for everything I'm saving and all the good I'm doing; instead (/in addition) I'm horrified by the amount of water required per time I flush the toilet (1.6 gallons in a low-flow toilets; I think it's 3.5 for older ones) and feel bad (when I think about it, yes) for using my computer at all, for not keeping the thermostat still lower, for living in a space that's larger than what I would technically need, for buying things that aren't absolutely necessary for survival (um, it's quite possible to live without owning an MP3 player), for buying food I know has been shipped in from California or Mexico or Kansas or Florida... I mean, I don't obsess over it, and I don't suppose I think people should (mental health is important too), but I do consider it, I am made uncomfortable by it, and I do try to reduce it further where I can. I think rather than activating all our cognitive tricks to assuage whatever guilt we feel for living and consuming the way we do and then congratulating ourselves for not living worse, we should be willing to live with the discomfort, acknowledging that our choices aren't actually the best.

Otherwise we fall prey to the pat-yourself-on-the-back kind of environmentalism that ends up not actually making any improvements but merely keeps things from getting worse. (This is one reason cap and trade has never completely won my support, since rather than requiring cutting as much as possible it picks a level of "acceptable" pollution and lets everyone pollute up to that point. I mean, I still support it, it's obviously better than nothing, and it's likely the only thing that would work without strangling our economic system which people seem to be rather attached to...) I don't know why humanity has to feel like it's doing good all the time. You can feel it's necessary and justifiable to do certain things and still feel it's regrettable that you have to, that that's not the best possible course of action in an ideal world, and want to minimize them as much as possible (see: death penalty, eating meat, cutting social programs in a recession). I do think we have a right to be on this earth and to live flourishing lives, but we have a responsibility to live as lightly as we can and not to excessively harm other things in so doing.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reason 5,198

Reason 5,198 I enjoy living in Boston:

Nowhere else I have lived (with the exception of a term studying abroad in Oxford) ever pops up in books I'm reading. I love that little shock of recognition when I realize that I know where that character is walking or what shop they're talking about, especially when I didn't realize before that moment where the events were set. I like thinking that authors enjoyed their time here sufficiently to set their works here even when they've since moved on.

I just finished a book (guess what it is) that referenced the YMCA on Mass Ave, the Christian Science Mapparium further down Mass Ave, what I assume is Redbones in Davis Square (where else in Davis would you eat pulled pork?), what I assume is Dali near Inman Square (I don't know, are there more Spanish restaurants with a boar's head grinning down at you from over the bar?), Filene's Basement and the no-dividers dressing room thereof, walking over the Charles via various bridges, someone meeting her husband at Alewife Station after work, Cardullo's in Harvard Square (though I kind of doubt there was no other place to buy bay leaves and cloves, even if those were more exotic in the seventies or whenever this was set), going to Central Square for Indian food, walking around from Downtown Crossing to Park Street, some lawyer guy working down near State Street, etc. Of course, Filene's is now a giant crater, but I did experience that dressing room before it went.

It's just so weird, because if you read the story without being familiar with the setting, you wouldn't feel like you were missing anything, and you wouldn't be. Being familiar with the location isn't at all necessary for reading the story, but somehow it's nice to have that anchor and to envision the characters intersecting with your daily life.


Actually I'm kind of split on this. The last book I read that was set here (36 Arguments for the Existence of God) kind of annoyed me because it seemed very in-grouppy, chummy, like if you got the references you were in the right crowd (and most of them seemed very specifically pointed at Harvard and the professorial circle, so I did not). Plus it was so unnecessarily detailed, describing the exact path characters drove, that it almost interfered with the story because I couldn't help but visualize it and try to figure out exactly where the person's house was that they were going to. That one very definitely referenced Dali, though, which made me feel all in-grouppy for a bit.

Then there was The Handmaid's Tale, which I had read long before I moved here and never really noticed the setting, but then when I reread it shortly after moving here I realized (with a much more unpleasant shock) that the building where one of their ceremonies took place, by the river, where a "banner covers the building's former name, some dead president they shot" was probably the JFK School of Government, so then I paid more attention to where they were were walking and going. Everything else was similarly obscured, but it's still very clearly the Harvard Square area. It ended up kind of freaking me out since it brought the creepiness of the story home to my lovely liberal and decidedly not theocratic Cambridge. I went to a reading of hers last year and she said she enjoys setting her terrible stories in Cambridge (apparently Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood are as well, though I didn't notice as much when reading them).

OK, my first sentence wasn't entirely true. Murder in Coweta County does in fact take place in the county I spent half of my childhood (though, if I remember correctly, only barely mentions my town), and The Whisper of the River by Ferrol Sams does indeed take place not only in the town but at the very college where I went. But that was the whole point in reading both of them, not something to stumble over and be delighted about. Plus, The Whisper of the River is based on his life, I think, and reading about him having sex on top of the administration building was just kind of gross.

(The book I just finished was Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Recipe Roundup (Jan-Mar 2011)

Things I've made/eaten lately:

I was ill-prepared for International Pancake Day, but the plethora of pancake options that flooded my consciousness resulted in my treating myself to these lovely Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes for my birthday breakfast a few days later. Nice and fluffy and a step up from your normal, boring pancake. The blueberry sauce stained my bottom lip, though, so I spent the first few hours of my day worrying people would think I'd already been drinking red wine.

Pesto mac and goat cheese! Delicious, obviously. I always forget how awesome panko is. What's great about this recipe is it's mostly stove-top (so it's quick!) but still ends up with a nice crust liked baked mac and cheeses. If only I could ever use the broiler without charring the top of whatever I'm cooking... I really ought to lie flat on my stomach staring into the broiler and watch it the entire time. I halved the recipe since it's just me and I didn't want to die of fatty dairy overload or anything by trying to eat the whole thing within a week.

I've been trying to find ways to use tuna fish that don't make me gag (so, not tuna salad or sandwiches) so I can finally use up the canned tuna that's been in my pantry since I rescued it from a former roommate who was going to throw it out. I'd made a pasta dish or two that were OK but nothing special. Then for some reason I decided I thought tuna would go well with black beans. (Which I actually had never willingly eaten before, so I'm not sure how I came to that decision...though it may have had something to do with the facts that they're neighbors in my pantry and I'm trying to use stuff up.) So I Googled a bit and decided this Southwest Tuna and Black Beans fit the bill. I used it as filling for soft tacos, and I was surprised to discover I liked it even though I don't really like any of the things in it (except lime). I was somewhat bewildered at the store since the various fresh peppers were clearly mislabeled and I'm not terribly familiar with them. I'm pretty sure I didn't actually end up with an Anaheim, but whatever I got instead seemed to work fine.

Lentils are a thing I'm trying to eat more of. Super-healthy, super-cheap, long shelf life, probably a better idea for protein than stuffing my face with cheese all the time... I also recently remembered I had not yet used the crock pot another previous roommate gave me when he bought a bigger one. I needed to do something to break it in, so I gave this Sweet and Spicy Lentil Chili from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker a try (see page 118; it won't stay there for some reason). I was not such a fan of this. I've just not had terribly good luck with lentils. The last thing I used them in was a soup that wasn't terribly exciting either. The spices in this are good, but I guess fundamentally I just don't like that much tomato (right, so chili probably isn't that great an idea...). I ended up freezing most of it once I realized there was no way I would eat it all (it claims to serve four to six, but at least I would definitely not want to eat more than like 1/12 of this at once). So it's lurking, waiting for me to suck it up and give it another go-round.

This Slow-Baked Beans with Kale casserole was another disappointment, but I'm not entirely sure it was the recipe's fault. My beans never got anywhere close to "creamy." Maybe I'll give it another try but using canned beans instead. I'd been thinking I was going to use dry over canned since they're cheaper and the extra effort really isn't that much, but I don't know, for the relatively small price differential the ease of cans probably make it worth it. (In other news, kale is only 96 cents for a big bunch. I guess I had never noticed its price before, but that's kind of amazing, especially given the whole "healthy food costs more" argument.)

Growing up I thought I hated soup (and probably did), but this winter that's one of the things I've been working on. It helps that I'm always cold in winter in Boston so warm liquidy food sounds much more appealing these days. Right now this is my soup obsession, except I make it with kale instead of escarole. I'm actually not sure I've ever consumed escarole, so maybe I should give it a try as written sometime. I keep forgetting to actually put the Parmesan on, which obviously means I'm not missing it. Then Martha Rose Shulman at the NYT had several "soups with grains" recipes that I gave a try. I made the Garlic Soup with Quinoa and Snap Peas (scroll down) and Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup. I had really high hopes for the mushroom soup, and it was good but not as good as I wanted it to be, especially reheated. (This was my first experience with dried porcini, though, so it was a learning experience.) I liked the one with snap peas a lot, though. It's basically an egg drop soup, and it's oddly satisfying (not in the sense of filling, though the quinoa helps with that, just that I felt a sense of satisfaction eating itsomething about dredging the quinoa up or I love garlic, although it's not as dominant as the way the title is phrased would make you think).

Then there's the fancy grits that I'm pretty much obsessed with. The jalapeƱo keeps it from being boring, the goat cheese makes it rich and creamy, and the mushrooms are all earthy and satisfyingly umami-y. The perfect meal for a cold, wet, cranky day. I halve it, but the first time I made it I ended up eating all of it that night (which is well enough because I can't imagine it reheats terribly well).

And my latest obsession... Last week I ate at Not Your Average Joe's for the first time in a while and they had this new crusted portobello thing (with or without chickenI'm not sure why anyone would really need the chicken, though). It was pretty much amazing, so two nights later I set out to replicate it. (Yes, I was that impatient.) I'm not sure what they used to encrust their mushrooms, but I used a mixture of ground pecans and Parmesan cheese, and it was even better (plus then I got to feel all virtuous for finally using part of the pecan meal or whatever my aunt gave me some time ago). So: Israeli couscous with some herbs or pesto or something topped with the mushrooms (NYAJ didn't slice them, but I did and recommend that, then dip in egg, then coat in the nut/cheese mixture or breadcrumbs or whatever, then fry), topped with a handful of arugula and some goat cheese. They also had a tomato sauce kind of around the side and on the couscous that I didn't bother adding; it's good with or without. I then made this the next night as well. And ate more pecan-fried mushrooms for brunch this morning. So yes, that's three and a half times in one week. There are two more portobello caps in my fridge, so it may just happen again...

Pardon the not-terribly-exciting picture and my entire lack of artistry with the cheese. (Oh, and I used orzo since it's also something I'm trying to use up, but Israeli couscous was much better.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

An Embarrassment of Riches

I occasionally wonder what the Bangladeshi or Pakistani or Taiwanese people working in factories to make our crap think about it. Just think of all the ridiculous little plastic tchotchkes you've ever encountered in your life (especially stupid free stuff branded with a company name or the sort of novelty gifts that made solely to get a laugh out of them when they open it and are never touched again) or the super-cheap ridiculously-trendy articles of clothing. It's someone's job to make that. Every day.

Taking the whole income differential out, I'm pretty sure anyone who spent their entire life devoted to making useless junk would feel pretty unfulfilled (hell, even if I spent my whole life making toothbrushes I would feel pretty unfulfilled, and those are actually important), but assuming that factory workers in these countries have a standard of living a fraction of that in the United States, what must they think? Do they sit there on the production line trying to envision what kind of person buys these things, what they do with them, why they want them? Do they try to picture what kind of life includes such things? Do they even know what all of them are? Are they just thankful to get a paycheck, or do they resent fulfilling what is clearly a rather useless role in the grand scheme of things? Do they dream about a life that includes these things? Or do they feel like they're pulling one over on stupid Americans who are too dumb to realize they're giving these people money for nothing? Do they think about it at all?

The other day I ran across this article about how World Vision collects T-shirts and hats and whatever from retailers who made up a batch of "Hooray, we won" Super Bowl paraphernalia for either contingency. Everyone's patting themselves on the back for finding a good solution to unite U.S. waste with charitable giving, but I just found the whole thing disturbing. To an extent, they're right: of course it's better for a bunch of poor kids in Zambia to have clothes than not to. But what such a program says about American attitudes in general isn't terribly flattering. We care so much about improving their lives by giving them their very own pieces of brand-new clothing, but not enough to actually give them brand-new clothing unless it's worthless to Americans.

I find it appalling that companies do the double-production thing at all. Americans really have such a need for instant gratification that they can't wait for these things to be produced after the Super Bowl so only one set, an accurate one, has to be manufactured? (Well of courseif they waited, they'd realize there's really no reason to buy such a thing.) And we're willing to produce twice as much as we "need," knowing that half of it will be entirely useless? We're willing to spend $2 million making stuff solely to hedge our bets? And consumers are willing to pay a much higher price than would normally be charged for such things in order to comp that? What is wrong with us?! (And to go back to the beginning, isn't it embarrassing to have impoverished factory workers producing our ephemeral (at best, if it's the half that's accurate) commemorative gear? The most trivial pieces of our lives are responsible for their livelihoods.)

Too, the attitude that comes across in this article just really bothers me. I mean, I doubt many of the people accepting these donations do care what their T-shirts say. Presumably they don't read English anyway. But it still seems rather disrespectful of human dignity to unload your unwanted possessionsyour trash, reallyon others just because they don't know better or you think they're not in a position to be choosy. It's like the rich flicking scraps of food from their table for the poor to eat and calling it charity. It's not. From a utilitarian standpoint it does help them, but it's not charity. It doesn't come from an attitude of wanting to help. It doesn't make you a nice person. It doesn't mean you get to go feel all warm and fuzzy because you spent a week of your life traveling to third-world countries handing out "inaccurate" sports gear to kids who smile at you. If you pay some poor villager somewhere $10 to let you beat them up, that would in a sense be worse than if you just beat him up without paying him, right? It's taking advantage of poverty.

I find it really offensive that we as a country have apparently decided we can make and do whatever we want and waste as much as we want because, whatever, there are always people worse off who will use whatever we don't want; things that are less-than-worthless castoffs to us are life-changing extravagances for them. If true, isn't this a problem? Doesn't this bother anyone? Isn't it extraordinarily immoral to live that way? It's almost like such profligacy makes these people feel better about themselves because they're doing good by being wasteful. No! Prodigality is not a virtue, even if it indirectly does improve others' lives.

I guess I'm not actually arguing that it's so immoral to do such things that all other things (i.e., not donating normal clothing) being equal, we shouldn't do them, but it would definitely be much better all around if people actually deliberately did things to help people rather than assuming trickle-down effects will take care of everything and they don't actually have an obligation to think about their actions at all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sign Changes

This is has been a thing (at least in my Facebook feed) for all of three hours, but I am finding it absolutely fascinating. Oh no, most of us aren't actually whatever zodiac sign we've always thought we were! How shall we ever live knowing that the past however-many years of our lives were a lie? (What about all the horoscopes that were perfectly suited to the situations of our days?! All lies!) This is apparently the article that started it all.

I mean, right, it's astrology, so its real-life impact is nonexistent, but people's reactions are really interesting. Most people are some variation of "What, so I'm an X now? No way am I an X!" (I for one find what I hastily learned from one random website about Aquariuses to be much more accurately descriptive of my personality than the wishy-washy touchy-feely dreamy fish I was previously purported to be, not that that matters.) I really hope people's reactions to just staying what they've always been are due to this all just being fun and games and changing exactly nothing about the real world; otherwise, these attitudes of "What I've always 'known' above all else!" are rather terrifying.

For someone who took astrological claims seriously and truly believed the positions of the stars in the sky at one's birth actually influenced or outright determined their personality, fate, and compatibility with others, there would be no choice but to accept this new knowledge immediately, switch to the "new" sign, and live as that which they always were, despite having been misled in the past. I'm not terribly familiar with astrological claims, but I assume there is supposed to be some mechanism by which these positions affects people above and beyond their knowledge thereof. So, pretending this was somehow scientifically valid, it doesn't matter what you think you are or what you've always been, the only thing that matters is which constellation the sun was in at your birth. Denying, then, the "new" (actually it seems to have been known since before the Common Era that the alignment of constellations and dates were drifting through an epic cycle) and apparently earthshattering news that you've been wrong your entire life about something so important would be counterproductive and the worst possible response. The only reasonable response would be to adopt your real sign as quickly as possible and try to make up for years of living your life a little out of sync thanks to heeding advice meant for others. But no: "I've always been an X!" "Screw you, I was born a Y and I'll die a Y!" "Z forever!"

Obviously in this case there are two levels of truth. "I was born a Leo" means either (or, until today, presumably both) that one was born when the sun was in the constellation Leo or that one was born on a date that was considered to belong to the sign of Leo. We're learning that the former expression is now untrue for many of us, but people's vehement responses are obviously because the latter expression turns out to be the most important to them in a visceral sense. And I suppose that's reasonable, since we do live in a society in a time period that (at least I assume I'm not extrapolating terribly, though as it tuns out, 25 percent of Americans believe in astrology) is too sophisticated to believe in such primitive nonsense. So of course cultural categories matter more than "reality" in this case, since the reality is impotent either way. Not that the cultural categories aren't, but as far as spending your life half-heartedly identifying with some set of characteristics or reading horoscopes in the hopes they'll have something useful to say about your day, I suppose there's no more reason to disrupt that for these scientific reasons than for the scientific reasons of oh wait, they're stars, exactly how are they supposed to affect your life?

Regardless, I certainly hope if, in the future, we are presented with new scientific knowledge that asserts what we've been thinking or doing our entire lives and/or history is incorrect in some area where it might actually matter, we'll be a bit more open to it and not cling to our past beliefs so tenaciously. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem terribly likely. I'm reminded of the Pluto debacle, although that was less about new information and more about consistency in categorization (also it probably doesn't make any difference to anything real how it's categorized). But there's the babies-on-their-tummies versus babies-on-their-backs vacillation and the fat-is-bad—no-wait-carbs-are-bad debate, and I'm sure there are plenty of other life-changing discoveries to come. (Though in both of these cases I think we've held each position more than once over our history, so the problem seems to be either in changes in how we measure outcomes or in properly designing and analyzing studies. I guess when scientific consensus changes that much (or doesn't actually reach consensus) in one's lifetime, it's harder to feel certain that this time it's right, so personal choice and preference does actually seem to be (and may be, for all I know) a valid way of making decisions above and beyond the evidence.) I think these habits of disregarding evidence and relying on our intuitions, wishes, or anecdotal evidence bode ill for our nation as a whole and the state of ourselves and our minds as human beings.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Twenty Ten

I've been whining about how awful 2010 has been, but really I think it's just that the not-so-great parts were all toward the end (including a three-hour-late plane at the very, very end which put me in a very grumpy mood to ring in the New Year). In the spirit of accurate memories and cheering myself up, here are cool things I did in 2010.

First, some firsts:
I had my first fancy foodie experience at chef's choice night at Craigie on Main. I saw a silent film with a live orchestra for the first time (Metropolis), which was really pretty amazing. I ran my first (and second!) 5K. First jury duty experience (OK, so not everything is inherently awesome, but it wasn't all that bad, and it was indeed a first). First corn maze.

I read 61 books this year, for a total of 16,025 pages. I'm not going to list them all here, but a few recommendations from them: Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver; How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu; The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien; The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan; Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond; The World Without Us by Alan Weisman; Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen; and Fugitive Days by Bill Ayers.

I saw some excellent plays and performances, including Gatz, an epic two-part (six hours total!) performance where the entire text of The Great Gatsby is spoken on stage; Wicked (finally!); a local performance of Julius Caesar in which a dear friend of mine played Brutus, pulling off his first thoroughly serious role rather amazingly if I do say so myself; Death of a Salesman with Christopher Lloyd as Willy Loman; and the surprisingly awesome Slutcracker burlesque.

And then there are the author events. This year I heard two of my favorite authors speak, Barbara Kingsolver (on tour for Lacuna) and Tim O'Brien (doing a 20-year anniversary tour for The Things They Carried, one of my all-time favorite books). With last year's Margaret Atwood event, I have now seen my three favorite living fiction writers in person and have autographed books from all three. This year also included Chuck Palahniuk, Arianna Huffington, Gail Collins, and Salman Rushdie. It would have also included Oliver Sachs if I hadn't had an exam at the time of his talk (I'm still peeved about that) and Christopher Hitchens if he hadn't gotten awful cancer and had to cancel everything.

I ate one table over from one of the guys from Jersey Shore while out for dinner in the North End. This isn't terribly cool, but it's a thing that happened, and it was rather ridiculous, so it counts.

I took a random chemistry class to keep my brain alive, and it fulfilled its purpose well. I'm rather amazed at how poorly it turns out I have been taught in the past...or maybe it's just that now that my brain isn't being constantly bombarded with things it's supposed to know for seven hours a day, it actually cares and can absorb and contemplate and savor knowledge in a much deeper and fulfilling way.

And I hiked (most of) Mount Washington! I didn't know going into it how big a deal Mount Washington is, so we weren't really prepared with weather-proof attire for the part at the top where the wind is trying to both numb you and pull you off the mountain, so we turned back annoyingly close to the top, but I'm still quite proud of how intense it was and how well we did, considering we're not "real" hikers. A bit later, my brother and I went on a hike in the Cannonballs (also in New Hampshire), which turned out to be an even more demanding hike overall, partially because it was ten hours long and partially because the first half was steeper than anything I've done before. So it's been a good year physically, with hiking and biking (I finally biked to Walden Pond, a trip I've been wanting to take on since I moved here) and starting to run (I did the Couch-to-5K program this spring and have kept running fairly consistently the rest of the year). Next year I shall add kayaking, ice skating, and perhaps skiing to this mix.