I’ve alive and made French toast!

Heyyyy there, you fine people. Sorry that I have been so noticeably (maybe only I notice. So much blogging guilt!) absent these past two weeks. My dad even assumed that I don’t blog anymore , though to be fair, I don’t think he reads my blog. DAD ARE YOU READING THIS?!?

It has been a busy few weeks. Our friend Brandon was in town after spending the last two years in Abu Dhabi as a Foreign Service Officer, so it was great to see him. (He is also the first person with the notable distinction of having slept on an air mattress on our floor.) On top of that, I somehow became a social butterfly with lots of evening and after-work events, so I ended up with six consecutive nights out. And phewww, I’m wiped!

[Insert a logical segue here.]

Last Sunday, I made this delicious French toast casserole by the Pioneer Woman.

It’s really easy–you make everything ahead of time and put it in the fridge overnight. Then in the morning, you just throw on the crumb topping and pop it in the oven for 45 minutes. I even went for a run while it was baking, though I did spend most of the run worrying that I was going to burn down the apartment.

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And while it’s baking, it makes the apartment smell so cinnamon-y and delightful. This picture doesn’t really do the final product justice. It’s not dry and washed-out brown as this picture would have you believe. The crusty cinnamon-sugar parts on the top are the best, and the custard on the bottom is really soft and floppy. (Teehee!) I don’t really like crispy French toast; I like mine to be custard-like.

baked French toast casserole

And, okay, let’s be honest: with eight eggs, cream, and sugar, it’s really bread pudding/dessert. However, it’s called “French toast,” so you can get away with eating it for breakfast.

baked French toast

(Except we totally could not get away eating it for breakfast. Even a small bit put me out of commission. I’m actually making some to bring to work tomorrow for our last day before we move office buildings. Let’s see if the engineering team gets anything done tomorrow.)

San Simeon & Big Sur

Ever since I saw Citizen Kane in college, I’ve wanted to see Hearst Castle. (I’m all about gawking at historic displays of wealth.) For my birthday, the Hus-friend surprised me with a weekend trip down the coast to visit the newspaper magnate’s palatial home overlooking the Pacific.

We went on the night tour on Saturday night, which was super cool and highly recommended. (Group of 16 people, very few kids.) We got to see the sun set behind the fog bank over the ocean.

(Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so Hus-friend was on camera duty.)20140412_193935

The Neptune Pool was under construction, but it was still really impressive even with the gates.Neptune pool

The gardens and grounds are laid out like an Italian village. The outside was beautiful with lots of citrus trees and nice walkways. Hearst Castle gardens

The 5000-square foot guest houses are located slightly below the main house. Hearst Castle

I thought this statue looked like Bodger. gardens at Hearst Castle

Obligatory castle selfie?

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The castle lit up at night: Hearst castle at night

The tour theme is all about stepping back in time and experiencing the estate as it would have been when Hearst and Marion Davies were inviting big wigs to stay. Our guide made a lot of corny jokes about Mr. Hearst still being around, which the Hus-friend found amusing. Meanwhile, I was on DOCENT WATCH, pointing out all the period costumed volunteers, showing us what it would be like to be an invited guest of William Randolph Hearst in the 1930′s.

DOCENTS!sitting room at Hearst Castle

The design is a mix of European styles with a lot of Renaissance and Baroque influence. (Full disclosure: This means almost nothing to me because I know nothing about art or architecture.) The house is full of dark wood, tapestries, damask upholstery, and scary statues/paintings of Madonna and child or some religious figure looming over you in the bedrooms.

[I wish that their had been intimidating religious iconography in our thinly walled hotel room last night. It may have prevented the couple next to us from being quite so enthusiastic.]

The dining room table, for example, is flanked by intricately carved choir stalls and flags.
dining room at Hearst Castle

 

The whole effect is very…heavy. It’s definitely not a style that I like or want to copy in our apartment, but it was amazing to see the collection of expensive objects everywhere.library at Hearst Castle

I definitely encourage you to check it out. We’re basically the least cultured people you know, and we really enjoyed it!

This morning, we drove up Route 1 along the coast, including Big Sur. It was a beautiful (if slow and winding) drive with breathtaking views of the ocean and rocky cliffs.

Elephant seal rookery

Best of all, we went by the elephant seal rookery right outside of San Simeon!

Elephant seals might be my new favorite things ever. It’s apparently the season where the females and adolescents undergo “catastrophic molting” and shed their coats. We didn’t see any males with the big proboscises, but there were hundreds of seals lying on the beach, flopping their way into/out of the water or flipping sand onto their backs. They make hilarious noises, ranging from barks to burps. It’s pretty great, and we laughed out loud a lot.

Elephant seals

 

I jokingly said that the elephant seal is my spirit animal, but I think it’s a pretty true.

elephant seals

It was the perfect weekend get-away from the poop-filled concrete jungle of SoMa. In general, I really like getting/giving experiences as gifts. This was our first road trip since moving to California, and we had a lot of fun driving along the beautiful coastline. After driving the course today, we’re both interested in running the Big Sur marathon next year!
Big sur selfie

(Bodger came too and was a champion traveler!)

 

 

 

My dramatic & hilarious attempt at gardening

You know how I’m an aggressive taker-on of hobbies? Well, two weeks ago, I decided that I was going to learn how to grow my own herbs.

I’ve vaguely had an interest in gardening, perhaps because my parents are excellent gardeners andmy grandparents gave me the “The Secret Garden” soundtrack on cassette tape. By “had an interest,” I mean, I’ve occasionally pinned pictures of windowsill gardens on Pinterest. Even less frequently, I’ve said things like “I’d like to have a window box for herbs.” or “I’d like to be good at growing roses.” or “I think I’m going to learn to plant my own tomatoes in raised beds.” The level of commitment attached to these statements was roughly on par with me saying “I wish I were a celebrity so that I could write a memoir that the general public would think was hilarious.” (By the way, I totally don’t want to be a celebrity.)

However, last weekend, I was struck with a sudden and intense urge to learn to grow things. Not anything crazy, just basic herbs. Poor Hus-friend was enjoying his lazy Saturday afternoon in his recliner. Meanwhile, I was on my computer, frantically shooting off Internet queries like “HOW TO GROW PLANTS” and “GERMINATE HERB SEEDS HOW!!!!” Then I announced with great ceremony that we were walking to the local hardware store and buying supplies.

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I went to the hardware store and wandered around mostly aimlessly, picking up things and saying, “Is this right? What size pot/bag of potting soil/seed packet/watering can do I need?” to the skeptical employees. We ended up with a five-pound bag of potting soil, cilantro and parsley seeds, and two hideous, khaki-colored acrylic pots because while I am incredibly motivated, I am also very cheap.

Part of the Internet told me to soak the seeds before planting, so I left them out in cups of warm-ish water while we ran Sunday errands. Maybe the Internet said for 24 hours, but it seemed like eight hours were sufficient, and I am impatient, so I got right down to planting.

Now, this is where I ran into true problems. The Internet says things like “Plant seeds 1/2″ apart” except then the reality of things presents you with contradictory facts: The pots in which you grow your windowsill herbs are not big enough to allow you to plant every seed in the packet (There are, like, billions!) 1/2″ apart. You would need a very long or wide tray to start each seed 1/2″ from its neighbors. I ended up guessing what 1/2″ looked like and dropping 3-4 seeds in each hole.

Okay, and also, the back of the seed packet told me to plant the parsley seeds (which are, like, tiny grains of rice!) 1/8″ deep. 1/8″?!? IS THAT EVEN A REAL DISTANCE?? NO, IT IS NOT.

So here I was, trying to plant, like, 100 seeds 1/2″ apart and 1/8″ deep in a pot that could probably hold 20-25. I know math, and this was not happening the way the Internet told me.

Meanwhile, I had soaked the seeds, so they were all wet and clumpy. I also lack fine-tuned dexterity,  so the seeds were sticking to my clumsy, wet fingers instead of dropping neatly into the 1/8″ furrows that I had so painstakingly attempted to make in the potting soil. Then I’d try to brush the hair out of my eyes and get seeds and bits of potting soil on my cheeks.  When I tried to delicately sprinkle water over the finished pots, the 1/8″ of soil just washed away, exposing all the seeds.

I felt the onset of rage, and as I squatted over the hideous khaki pots in the kitchen, the following conversation took place:

“THIS IS SO DUMB! GROWING THINGS IS DUMB!!” I yelled at Hus-friend, “CAN’T I JUST THROW THEM ALL IN THE POT???”

“Stop doing it then. I’m sure that’s fine. You’re getting frustrated,” responded my ridiculously patient and good-natured husband.

“I HATE THIS! SOMEONE JUST NEEDS TO TELL ME *EXACTLY* WHAT TO DO AND GIVE ME PRECISE DIRECTIONS FOR GARDENING,” I raged back.

“Gardening isn’t precise,” replied Hus-friend (whose mother, by the way, is a master gardener.)

“ARHAGHDJKSJREWLSLSJIEIH!!!” I cried, throwing the rest of the seeds into the pots and unceremoniously dumping some potting soil over everything and washing my hands of the whole project.

(“I live with an insane woman,” thought Bodger.)

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For the past two weeks, the booger-colored pots have sat next on the windowsill, flanking the leafy basil that we bought at the grocery store. Except over the weekend, a real miracle happened…

…shit came up out of the ground!!!!!!

Hi, cilantro!

cilantro seedlings

Oh WHAT! WHAT! THIS PARSLEY IS TOTALLY HAPPENING!

Parsley seedlings

You can tell that one side of the pot is getting more sun than the others, especially as the little seedlings are stretching in one direction. Eventually, I am told (by the trusty Internet) that I will have to thin the seedlings to a certain distance apart so they don’t compete for each other’s resources. That may be a heart-breaking experience, snipping or pulling out the little plants, but then again, I want my herbs AT ANY COST!

Sorry, Mother Nature, for doubting your ability to make new life happen in adverse and rage-filled conditions. You’re a trooper.

Striped socks

Knit socks

I finished my second pair of hand-knit socks, and I think that I did them without any serious mistakes. (“Serious” meaning that only I notice them.) Sure, I didn’t gauge my work, but they still fit my feet. I think it’s fine.

I like knitting with sock yarn. It’s so smooth and delicate and just glides through my fingers. And the self-striping yarn makes the finished product looks fancy with minimal effort on my part.

striped yarn socks

After two consecutive pairs of socks, I’m ready for a new challenge. Last night, I tried to start stranded knitting with somewhat disastrous consequences. Knitting with two  yarns is hard!

On an unrelated note, here’s a picture of non blow-out hair. I’m so delighted with this new haircut. It’s much lighter and more stylish!

haircut selfie

And also, the weird emoji on KakaoTalk (Korean chatting application) knew that it was my birthday.KakaoStory birthday message

I almost ruined my surprise birthday party.

On Saturday, after I got my haircut, I texted Hus-friend and asked if he wanted to meet me in Japantown. I’d been craving Korean food, and we’d mentioned finding a place for dinner after my haircut. He arrived around 5, and we wandered around a bit in J-Town and Lafayette park.

He told me he’d found a good Korean place on Google, but after reading sub-par FourSquare reviews, I was skeptical.

Then he said we should find a snack, which was not all that out of the ordinary because, like a small child, I have to eat snacks in the afternoon or I suddenly because a rageful, hangry Godzirra, just stomping and raining destruction on everything/everyone in my path. I didn’t want a snack though because I’d just eaten a Clif bar, and it’s cool, I wasn’t hungry.

…Except then it was 6pm, and I WAS SO HUNGRY. And when I’m hungry, Imma’ eat.

So we walked to the restaurant…and then right past it because the Hus-friend was “unsure” that it was the right one and had to check his phone.

“No, it says Korea House on the door,” I insisted, “And FourSquare says it’s 60ft away. That has to be it.”

Then Hus-friend started shaking his head and announced that I was “too difficult.”

BECAUSE APPARENTLY HE AND STELLA PLANNED A SURPRISE BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR ME AND THE RESERVATION WAS AT 7PM.

Poor Hus-friend! I put on my big girl pants and waited 45 whole [agonizing! excruciating! No, just kidding. It wasn't bad when I knew I was going to eat.] minutes for Stella and Aaron. Meanwhile, we discussed how the dynamics of our relationship are such that he basically can’t plan surprises because he never says “Let’s do ____.” Maybe said in another way, that just means I’m bossy. Haaaaa.

Except it totally was a surprise! The joke was on me. Not only did Stella and Aaron come to dinner, but also Siena T. Badass, who I’ve been trying to hang out with since we finished Hackbright.

They treated me to a delicious Korean dinner, complete with the table grill and makgeoli (fermented yogurt wine. Sounds delicious, I know.).When we were done, Stella announced that there was another surprise! We walked to a Japanese karaoke bar/noraebang. AHHHHHH!

(Earlier in the week, I’d seen Siena asking for suggestions for karaoke bars on Facebook, and I jumped on that immediately. Then during dinner, I turned to her and said, “Oh! Siena! We should totally do karaoke sometime. I think that would be sooo funnnnnnn!” And she played it cool, like “Yeah, that would be fun. Let’s definitely do it.” I suspected nothing.)

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Oh man, I love Asian karaoke. It’s so fun! Siena is, of course, a really good singer and killed it on not only Pat Benatar but also the theme song to “Sailor Moon” that she sang/read IN JAPANESE. WHAT.

Two or three songs in (including Stella’s and my enthusiastic but questionable performance of “Love Song” by Taylor Swift), Siena announced that we were ready for “Let it Go” from Frozen.

"Let it Go"

And, like, okay, I’m never really ready for “Let it Go” because I don’t have magical vocal chords made of dreams and stamina. We tried anyway.

singing "Let it go"

What Stella and I lack in vocal stamina, we make up for in enthusiasm.

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Aaron all the while commented that it was his first time hearing most of the songs we sang. (To which Hus-friend replied, “What? Really? I’m jealous!”)  I’m really quite glad that we could introduce him to the lyrical genius of Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” Cause I was like, baby. baby. baby. Ohhhhh. 

Sorry, Aaron, if we caused you physical agony.

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This karaoke bar has a wide selection of musical songs, which made me all kinds of excited. Stella and I sang the opening number of “RENT” and realized that nearing our 30′s, it seems much less cool to sing about how we’re not going to pay rent. Because, come on, just pay your rent!

By the way, irony still confuses most of us.

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And oooh, fancy tres leches birthday cake from Tartine? My friends treat me so well!

Tartine tres leches cake

This was my first EVER surprise party, and I’m so happy about it! I feel so lucky that my friends made the effort to put together a surprise and celebrate my birthday. Thanks so, so much!!

surprise 28th birthday

So, my last day being 27. Oh shit, here comes 28!

Post haircut

Does this happen to you? You go into the salon to get a haircut and maybe aren’t wearing make-up and maybe didn’t shampoo your hair (because you’re just going to get a shampoo and cut anyway…). You sit in the chair and are like, “Cool. Let’s do this. I look fine, but Imma’ look mega-stylish when they’re done with me here.”

Then you look in the mirror and see  your unkempt, straggly layers framing your face which looks super haggard under the fluorescent salon lighting. And somehow, your face looks impossible puffy and large because your neck is being constricted by that stupid barbershop bib.

That happens to me every single time I get a haircut. And it happened in a big way yesterday because everyone in the cozy Japanese salon that I found was hyper-stylish. (The woman who shampooed my hair was wearing a mini fedora or something!)

Though my haircut was way more expensive than the $25 cuts I used to get from Cozy at the Korean salon in Champaign, I’m pretty happy with it. Six or so inches are gone, and it feels delightful to have a ponytail that doesn’t swing around and whapp me in the eye. Plus, my stylist said that my hair was healthy and shiny and that she didn’t want to ruin it with a perm.

Granted, she blow-dried my hair with a degree of precision heretofore unknown to me, so it had that nice curl at the bottom and was silky-smooth. All I have the motivation to do on workdays is flip my head over and shake the hair dryer in the general direction of my hair. But here it is…much lighter and more clean-looking.

shoulder-length haircut with layers

And here it is outside at Lafayette park in a field of lavender, on the grayest, dampest day of the year. Awesome.

lavender in Lafayette park

And here’s a weird bear we found in Japantown because…testicles?Japantown bear statue

You’re welcome.

Hair advice?

I have an appointment this Saturday at a Japanese salon near the Presidio. Any advice on what to do with my hair? long hair selfie

I actually got it cut back in December, but you can’t really see the layers that frame my face (The shortest are chin-length.) I’ve had the same haircut (long layers with side bangs) for several years, and I’m happy with it. Then again, I wouldn’t say no to a stylish change.

I don’t want anything too short that requires a lot of maintenance or styling because, let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen. On the other hand, I don’t want to look like I’m hanging onto my long hair like a security blanket. I just want it long enough to pull it back into a ponytail for exercising.

Should I get more layers? Cut it to shoulder length? Keep my bangs?  WHY IS BEING STYLISH SO MUCH WORK?!?

An insulated casserole carrier

Last fall, we went to Sarah’s Sarah-ween party across the Bay in Oakland, which is not terribly accessible from where we live in the city. It involved walking the better part of a mile to the Bart station, riding across the Bay, and then walking another most-of-a-mile to Sarah and Mile’s apartment. No big deal…unless you’re carrying a rather heavy casserole dish full of hot pumpkin macaroni & cheese. No joke: my biceps were sore the next day from toting my pasta-wares, which, come to think of it, is probably a reflection on the sad state of my muscles rather than on the weight of the dish.

Sewing project #3, an insulated casserole carrier, has been on my overly ambitious Pinterest board for some time, so last weekend, I purchased all the supplies and got a-sewin’. (I used this tutorial.) It took me three evenings of sewing after work, but I think it would take an experienced sewer maybe three hours.

insulated casserole carrier

The hardest part of sewing for me, so far, is cutting two pieces of fabric that have straight edges and match up in size. This is, like, basically impossible. Only today did I learn that you should print your pattern out on paper, pin it to the fabric, and cut accordingly. Meanwhile, my method involves using rules and tape measures and laying my arms out across the fabric on the floor and drawing dots that I then connect. Oh it’s a hot mess. (Incidentally, today I also received Christian’s spare rotary cutter because we are twinsies.)

insulated casserole carrier

Also! Lining up velcro pieces so that they match perfectly? Is this even a thing that people do? If so, please tell me how to do it because I basically lost my damn mind trying to get it exact.

insulated casserole carrier

So yeah, the edges are not perfectly straight on this, and I’m pretty sure that the velcro strips don’t match up quite right. Then again, Self, it’s a casserole carrier made for carrying hot dishes to house parties! WHO CARES?!?

insulated casserole carrier

It even has a little velcro spoon holder on top because, holy shit, I am fancy.

…said no one who has ever made a casserole tote.

Brrr, Ocean Beach!

I’m embarrassed to say that we moved to San Francisco six months ago, and I only now went to the beach on the west side of the city. (I saw the Pacific ocean when we went pumpkin picking with Sarah and Miles.)

We live on the east/Bay side of the city, so traversing San Francisco was a hike (six and a half miles). The amazing thing was the change in the weather from one side of the city to the other. Everyone always talks about SF’s “micro-climates” (Artisanal organic micro-climates! On sale at the Farmer’s Market!), but it was really no joke.

SF sidewalk

 

When we started in SoMa, the sun was shining, and there were no clouds. Then the hills started. They never look as big in pictures as they are in real life, but when I ran the next day, my hamstrings were protesting from walking up the equivalent of 75 flights of stairs.

flowers on an SF sidewalk

When we hiked up to Cole Valley and into UCSF, the wind was blowing rather briskly, and we had to put on our windbreakers.

view of SFBy the time we reached poorly named Sunset district, the sun was hiding behind a layer of clouds as thick as cotton batting. I’m pretty sure no one ever sees the actual sunset out in Sunset because there is no sun. It was chilly, gray, and damp.

…but we made it! We made it all the way to the Pacific!

At Ocean beach

There were several people out on the sand, but they were bundled up in scarves, hats, and jackets. Of course, one or two children who were impervious to the chill were playing in the surf. I died a little inside thinking about how cold that would make me.

Mica on Ocean BeachI guess going to the beach just isn’t a big thing in San Francisco because it’s always so chilly and sun-less. Still, I liked hearing the waves crashing and smelling the salty air. I’m sad we don’t live closer to the ocean side of the city. I saw a nice paved bike/running trail, and I might be more excited about morning runs if I could run along the water. However, Hus-friend and I decided that we’d go crazy living in a perpetually cloudy [micro]climate. We had enough of that in Illinois, thank you very much!

 

 

Sun Joo came to visit!

While I was TA-ing, my office was across the hall from Sun Joo, who is was a PhD student and the administrator for all of those delightful ESL proficiency tests that I helped administer every semester. (“It was exciting, too exciting!” ) Whenever I’d get bored or lonely in my office, I’d get up and walk the twenty feet across the hallway and bother Sun Joo, who was always very patient and tolerated my why-am-I-in-grad-school antics with good humor. (Like the time I spent 45 minutes Photo-shopping our heads onto a freeze frame from the Gangnam Style video.) 

Anyway, Sun Joo just passed her PhD defense last week and is almost a doctor! To get away from the drudgery of school and the horrible weather in Champaign, she came to visit some friends out in San Jose.

On Saturday, she came into the city (incidentally, with a hoard of drunk St. Patrick’s Day parade-goers), and we did our best to sell her on the Bay Area. We spent the afternoon eating delicious things (fancy lunch! snobby coffee! bread pudding!) in Hayes Valley, which were all things that Jordan and Maria did to convince us to move here. Mother Nature was helpful and pulled out all the stops with a beautiful, cloudless day.

Mica & Sun Joo in Alamo Square

We look like twins, right? Or sisters? Or maybe just…two Koreans standing in front of the “Full House” houses.

We enjoyed swapping advisor stories and generally enjoying the feeling of being [basically] done with grad school. She caught me up on some gossip, and I realized that even though I don’t miss academia at all, I do miss a lot of the people and, to some degree, the camaraderie that comes from shared misery and stress. That being said, I don’t miss the stress at all.

I’m really glad we live in a place where people want to come visit (YOU WANT TO VISIT. YOU DO!).

À  la mode.