Things I loved in 2018

I’m a huge fan of The Strategist, which has introduced me to plenty of things that I didn’t need to buy, but totally wanted to buy. I continue to strive for a minimalist life, so I actually got rid of a lot of stuff this year, but I wanted to share some of the things that I kept (or bought) and used and loved.

iPad

I bought my third iPad in October. I originally had a second-generation full-sized iPad, which I eventually traded in for a first-generation Mini, since I found the full-size to be way too difficult to use in one hand when riding the L. Eventually the screen on the Mini cracked, I got it replaced, it cracked again, and it got super slow. I never really got into a rhythm of how or what to use it for anyway, so I just stuffed it in a drawer.

I had a Macbook Air that was getting old and not used much, so I traded it in the old Mini in and got the new iPad instead, with the intention of it becoming my full-time personal machine. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I use it. It’s perfect as a couch companion for reading the news, online shopping, and Twitter. It’s blazingly fast and it can do just about anything that my Macbook Air could. All in all it’s being used far more than my Macbook Air ever was.

Cowin E7 Bluetooth Headphones

I’ve used a pair of old pair of wired Bose headphones as my regular headset for the last few years – the sound is obviously great, but more importantly, they had a really capable microphone so I didn’t have to switch headsets between work calls and music. With two dogs running around, though, the wire got to be a real hassle, so I purchased the Cowins because of their great price and great reviews on Amazon.

The sound on these is legit better than my Boses – I’ve found so many little flourishes in songs I’ve known for a long time that I’d never heard before. After some fiddling with my stupid Mac settings, I finally got the microphone working well a few weeks ago, so now these are unstoppable. Perhaps someday I’ll upgrade to the Bose wireless QuietComforts that everyone loves, but these will do great for now.

Double Cleansing

2018 is the year that I really got into skincare. I barely had any kind of skincare routine until recently; then I hit my thirties and realized that I should probably start doing something if I didn’t want to end up looking way older way sooner.

After experimenting with different cleansers for awhile, I started double cleansing awhile ago, and my skin loves it. It’s a Korean method where you start with a cleansing oil on your dry face (I use the Kose Soft Mo Deep Treatment Oil, which is a much cheaper but similarly effective version DHC’s Cleansing Oil), rub it in, emulsify with some water, and then apply a foam cleanser on top (I use Hada Labo’s Rohto Gokujyn). The whole process is so relaxing and removes a ton of junk from my face that other cleansers couldn’t touch, and my dry skin loves the extra moisture from the oil.

Eufy Boost IQ RoboVac

I’ve only had this little guy (often affectionately referred to around here as “little dumbass”) for a few days, but it has legitimately already changed my life. With two dogs, a cat, all hardwood on one floor and all carpet on the other, it felt like I was constantly living in a cloud of fur. Keeping things clean necessitated vacuuming at least once a day, and who has time for that?

Thankfully, my robot friend lives to vacuum. I’ve run it every morning for the last week and it’s amazing how much crap it’s still picking up daily. Bonus: it has an “edge mode” where it clings to the walls and grabs all of the dust and crud that gravitates to my baseboards. I never want to be without little dumbass.

Bullet Journaling

I wrote about my new BuJo habit on Instagram last month, and it’s still going strong. As a project manager, I have to keep track of lots of priorities for several clients all at once, along with my own internal tasks. Bullet journaling has kept me so well-organized throughout a chaotic few months at work and helped me do my job so much better.

I’ve been using paper, pens, and markers to this point, but I’m going to try switching over to using the iPad and Apple Pencil in 2019 to make it easier for me to search old notes and switch around between notebooks.

Built 30 Ounce Tumbler

I’m always dehydrated. I was a committed Vanilla Coke drinker until this year, and I knew it would probably be healthiest to replace that with something that would not be full of sugar and carbs and make me parched. So I committed to drinking more water, but it was slow going. I read somewhere online that the best way to make yourself drink more water is to buy a huge water bottle that you actually like the look of so that 1) you don’t have to constantly refill and 2) you’ll think it’s cool enough that you’ll actually want to use it.

This trick has 100% worked with my Built tumbler (in rose gold, of course). I found it at Wal-Mart for a little cheaper than it is in Amazon and it has not left my side for months. It holds the same amount of water as my Brita pitcher, and I go through it 2-3 times a day. Paired with my fancy metal straws and my favorite Mio water enhancer, it’s turned this pop addict into a water drinker.

EyeBuyDirect

I wore contacts for about thirty seconds in high school and college. I am a glasses girl. I feel weird without glasses. My glasses are a part of me. I was a committed Warby Parker devotee for a few years, but their glasses never fit me quite right, and while they were cheaper than a brick and mortar store, they still cost a pretty penny.

EyeBuyDirect is what I always wanted Warby Parker to be. They have tons of modern styles and even with lenses, lots of pairs are under $25 – I bought four pairs in June for under $65.. They also fit me far better than Warby Parker’s glasses ever did, and they’ve held us just as well if not better. I also got my first pair of prescription sunglasses from them, which have been so helpful to have. I’m never going back to Warby Parker.

Wilhelmina Rose

Two years ago this month, I adopted my dog, Mina.

Mina & I on her gotcha day

I was kind of scared of dogs as a kid, and was always more of a cat person. We already had at least two shelter cats at any one time when I was growing up, and I adopted two shelter cats with my college roommates. But after college, I became pretty obsessed with the idea of adopting a dog.

Mina was three months-old, and was brought to Felines & Canines in Chicago from a high-kill shelter in rural Kentucky. As I soon as I saw her picture, I knew she had to be mine. She looked so open and warm and sweet and happy, even given her circumstances. She arrived in Chicago on a Saturday afternoon and I brought her home on Sunday morning.


Mina’s shelter photo

I really was not prepared for a three month-old puppy, and a very active and intelligent one at that. The first few months with Mina were so difficult – she wanted constant attention and destroyed everything if she didn’t get it. She figured out how to get into things that I never though she could figure out. But we eventually settled into our routine, and while she still has occasional outbursts of crazy behavior – and still has a ton of energy – she’s calmed down quite a bit.

There were a lot of things that I wasn’t prepared for when I adopted a dog, but the biggest and best one was the tremendous positive impact that it would have on my mental health.

I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression my entire life. Before I adopted Mina, I’d been taking antidepressants for quite some time, and they made things much better than not taking any medication at all. But I still had panic attacks once a month or so, and I still had dark periods that could last for a week or two where I didn’t want to do anything and just cried for what felt like hours.

When I adopted Mina, all of that changed. In the two years that I’ve had her, I’ve had only a handful of panic attacks. And each time, Mina was by my side, often crying and pawing at me because she knew something was wrong. I still have dark days, but not nearly as many as I once did.

Running on Edgewater Beach in Chicago

I think that part of the reason why is that even when things are bad for me, Mina gives me something to concentrate on – she has to be fed and go out and be played with, regardless of how I’m feeling. But I think a lot of it is her simple presence, her absolute unfettered sheer happiness. Few things make me so happy as seeing her happy – watching her run at full speed through a creek at her favorite park is the best thing in the world.

And even when I feel ugly or fat or stupid, she thinks I am the greatest human being to walk on the planet Earth. Ever. All-time. Greatest. My presence is what makes her the happiest. That’s a helluva drug.

In a week, another dog will join our little rescue family. He, too, is from Kentucky – he was found in a barn, only a few weeks old, with four brothers and sisters. I’m excited to see him and Mina together, and I’m excited to have another dog in the house. But Mina will always be my first, and will always be my baby girl.

House sweet house

HOLY CANNOLI I’M BUYING A HOUSE.

Buying a house wasn’t a big huge life event that I’ve always wanted to experience. But as I entered my late twenties and saw my first friends buy condos, I began to realize that maybe I did want to own something. And I was sure as hell never going to own anything in Chicago – definitely not a house, and likely not even a condo. Condos in the last neighborhood I lived in Chicago (Edgewater) started at more than double the price I’m paying for this house.

So home ownership was part of the impetus for moving back to Pittsburgh. I figured I’d rent for a few years, save up for a down payment, and then slowly but surely find the perfect house. But as many other people will tell you, the whole home-buying thing can from I’ll-leisurely-check-out-houses-on-Zillow-a-few-times-a-day to HOMEOWNERSHIP-INCOMING very quickly.

In my case, I found out that I would be inheriting enough money for a down payment with an FHA loan, so I started looking. I saw six houses over the course of two days, and I bought the second one that I saw because I just KNEW. As soon as I stepped into the house for the first time it felt like home.

So now I’m dealing with the fun part: moving all of my utilities, booking movers, providing copious amounts of paperwork for my mortgage application. I agreed to a 30-day closing, so that’s made things even crazier than they would have been with a longer closing. But that’s okay. I’m ready to start my life in my home as soon as possible. It’s so exciting and freeing to think about not having to do this moving thing again for (hopefully) a very long time; to buy furniture that I know will always work and I won’t have to junk or replace because of a new apartment layout or size in a year or two.

And it’s nice to commit to actually decorating a place. The longest that I lived in a single apartment was three years in my first place right out of college, but because I was so poor, I couldn’t really decorate. I had an Ikea twin bed and my couch was the futon that had been my bed growing up. Every place since then, I knew I wasn’t going to stick around forever, so I got it maybe 50% decorated (as much as I could without painting and stuff that you can’t do in a rental), so nothing ever really felt like my own.

So now I’m being a super basic bitch and Pinteresting like there’s no tomorrow and futilely attempting to resist the temptation to buy furniture online and have it sent to my current place.

What I’ve noticed as I’ve read more and more home design blogs is that they can seem so phony. Everything is so meticulously curated so that it looks like no one lives there. I get that’s the aesthetic that these bloggers are often going for, but to me, it just solidifies my feeling that I’ll never have a perfect home like these people do.

And I noticed that a lot of home blogs are written by moms who talk about the challenges of making a home practical for kids. That’s totally reasonable, but I have absolutely no need to my make home kid-friendly, nor do I really want to read about kids while I’m trying to get ideas for decor. Just not my speed.

And these bloggers never swear, or talk about how poor they are, or whatever. It’s just all too conveniently perfect.

So I’m planning to write a series of blog updates about my new home called My Effing House. Because I’m a single woman with two cats and a dog who just bought an effing house and now needs to figure out how to decorate it and feel like home. And I hope you’ll be following along with me!

The best (and worst) beer I drank in 2016

2016 was the year that my beer nerdery really took off. When I moved back to Pittsburgh last November, I really thought that the opposite would happen, since Pittsburgh is so much smaller than Chicago, I figured the beer scene would be a lot more limited. But it turns out that the opposite is true. Smart Asset named Pittsburgh its #3 best city for beer drinkers this year based on number of microbreweries, number of bars, Yelp reviews, and the average price of a pint. It feels like a new brewery is opening or announced every week.

In Chicago, the city was so big and the beer scene so intense that I often felt kind of isolated. There was just so much that it was hard to keep track of good new breweries or beers. In Pittsburgh, there’s a great community of beer people who aren’t brewers or otherwise in the industry, especially on Facebook. I also got a license and a car, which made getting to out-of-the-way breweries and stores a lot easier.

All this is to say that I drank a lot of beer this year – some great, most good, and a few terrible. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.

Russian River Pliny the Elder – Imperial IPA

I had my first Pliny the Elder in San Francisco in March. I was there for a conference and my coworkers and I stopped into a good beer bar. When I saw it on the menu, I flipped out. A few weeks later, I went back to northern California on a business trip. After my colleague and I wrapped up our meetings, he suggested looking for a place to grab a beer before we had to head back to San Francisco to catch our flights home. I knew Petaluma wasn’t too far, so I considered Lagunitas. But on a hunch I did a search of what was even closer, and Russian River came up. It was five minutes away.I actually may have enjoyed the sours at Russian River even more than their other stuff, but I have to respect Pliny the Elder. It’s the elder statesman in the West Coast hop bomb movement, and for good reason. It’s hoppy without completely destroying your mouth (though I love Green Flash’s Palate Wrecker for that), and it’s just so drinkable. It reminded me a lot of a less sharp version of Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust.

Dancing Gnome Wonka – Dry Stout

Dancing Gnome opened in the totally unlikely locale of Sharpsburg a few months ago, brewing “unapologetically hop pronounced styles.” As a fan of big hoppy beers, I expected to be impressed by their pale ales, and I was. But the best thing I had there and one of my favorite beers this year was Wonka, a dry stout. Chewy and full of chocolate without being overpoweringly sweet, it’s a very unique beer.

Troegs Nimble Giant – Double IPA

This was my first summer back in Pittsburgh, so I know I’m behind in singing the praises of Nimble Giant. I’d had a few Troegs beers on trips back east, but wasn’t very impressed. The deeper I dig into their catalog, though, the more I like their stuff. Nimble Giant is one of their once-a-year beers that comes out only in the summer. And it is perfect for summer – a slightly floral, slightly citrus-y double IPA that is way too easy to drink.

Hitchhiker A Different Animal – Dry Hopped Sour

Hitchhiker is the brewery I’ve been to the most this year – their beers are solid, they’re close by, and they allow dogs, so of course I’m a frequent visitor. A Different Animal is one of the first beers of theirs that I tried, and it’s one that I’ve come back to again and again. I love sours and I will generally try one when I see one, but I find it tough to find sours that are well-balanced – they’re often too sweet, too sour, or trying to do way too much. A Different Animal strikes that perfect balance of being complex with notes of lemon and a touch of hops.

Dogfish Head Beer for Breakfast – Stout

Dogfish Head tries to sell scrapple as a Delaware thing on their website, but Pennsylvanians know it’s ours. A stout brewed with molasses, milk sugars, brown sugar, and scrapple, Beer for Breakfast is dark, smoky, and sweet, without being too syrupy. I bought a twelve pack of this, and it’s rare for me to buy large amounts of the same beer. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sad when it’s gone.

Wicked Weed Montmaretto – American Wild Ale

I’ve heard a lot about Wicked Weed and picked up a few of their large formats on vacation in North Carolina this autumn. This was my favorite. Why didn’t somebody think of this sooner?! Combine ale aged in neutral wine barrels, fermented with cherries, and combined with another part aged with almonds. The result is a beer that smells like a toasted almond and tastes like a mix of sour, funky cherries with a light almond finish.

And the worst.. I mean, I drank some MGD this year, so that is obviously the worst. I didn’t really have any craft beers that I outright loathed, but I was disappointed by a few. My biggest disappointments this year were by Evil Twin.

You know that Lewis Black bit about being fooled every year into trying candy corn, and remembering how terrible it is? That’s kind of how I feel about Evil Twin. Every time I see their cans in the store I’m lured in by the pretty packaging. I read the description and I think “huh, that sounds okay,” and buy it expecting to finally enjoy something of theirs. But I never do. It’s not that I find their beers bad.. it just seems uninspired.

They seem to save all of their really interesting ideas for the Biscotti series and other large formats. But even those have been disappointing for me. Michigan Maple Jesus was very good, but it wasn’t a beer I’d hanker for over and over again. I have a bottle of Imperial Mexican Biscotti Cake Break in my fridge right now, so maybe that will change my mind.

What were your best and worst beers this year? Share in the comments!

Between the suburbs and me

I had a very typical white suburban upbringing. My graduating class of 250+ people had a handful of people of color. I didn’t meet a Latino person until college, which I called to report to my mom (“He speaks Spanish, like he grew up speaking Spanish!”). I have a distinct memory of a classmate making jokes using racial slurs in fifth grade.

The only time that I remember riding a city bus as a kid was with an adult relative. After a few stops, a young black man got on the bus. He was well-dressed in a tailored suit and sharp shoes – the same kind of outfit my dad wore to work every day. My relative watched him get on the bus, looked him up and down, and cheerily exclaimed to no one, “Good for him.”

The fact that I remember that vignette so vividly tells me that even at that young age, I realized that what she said was a loaded statement. It meant that a young black man in a suit was abnormal. It meant that this young black man was doing something right when the other young black men were not. It meant that he was fitting in to my relative’s standards of success as an affluent white woman.

I don’t think my relative said what she said in any sort of malicious way, and I don’t think she thought about any of this when she said it. I think she was genuinely pleased that her fellow human being appeared to be doing well and was dressing the part. But that scene has stuck with me my entire life because it made me realize, even as a child, that the way that my relative perceived man was different. I knew it wasn’t because he was wearing a suit. My dad wore a suit. The only thing I could see that was different about this guy was that he was black.

I’ve been thinking about this memory a lot lately. Thinking about how our upbringing affects our perceptions, particularly in regards to race. About how our country’s natural instinct in times of racial turmoil and injustice is often to goodheartedly insist that we’re all the same, when in fact, we’re absolutely not. There are good things about our differences – our different cultures, histories, insights, food, music, literature – and there are very bad things, like the way that as white people, we often use those differences to justify the way that we treat people of color differently, both in the macro and micro senses.

In thinking about these things and asking myself lots of questions, I’ve been compelled to read articles like this, and yesterday I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me in one sitting. If you haven’t read it already you are, like me, super behind the times, but it’s on sale for $5.99 for Kindle so you now have no excuse.

Between the World and Me coalesced a lot of the thoughts and feelings that I’ve tried to process about race for a very long time. For example, Coates talks about the false construction of race. He never refers to “white people,” but “people who believe they are white.” This sounds silly until you realize, as he notes, that “white” in America is a construction that has changed dramatically over time. 100 years ago, “white” excluded tons of racial minorities that now comfortably reside under and benefit from that designation, including Irish, Italian, and Polish people. 100 years ago, as an Italian-Armenian-German person, I would not have been “white” in America. The whole point of whiteness is to create an other, so that we are not the other. As Coates says, “We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”

And if you’re not one of those people who “believes that they are white” in America, you are an other. You are different. And, according to Coates, that means you are valued less, particularly in regards to your body:

… all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.

It’s very easy to think of examples of this – what white people often call “black on black” violence, police brutality, etc. And there are other examples that we don’t often think about, like the ones in Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body, about the control of black women’s reproductive autonomy.

And as Coates says, and I’ve learned from reading a lot lately about the American Revolution (thanks, Hamilton!), this is America’s heritage. We’ve been working to simultaneously ignore and confirm race for our entire history. We don’t want to talk about it, but we do we want to make sure that behind the scenes, nothing changes, so that as white people we don’t have to risk our dominance.

Maybe this sounds like total BS to you. I’m probably not going to change your mind, and maybe no one else is. But whether this sounds crazy or correct to you, do me a favor: always ask questions. Challenge your beliefs and perceptions. Don’t accept things at face value. Don’t believe what the people in power – your parents, your teachers, your bosses – tell you. Read Between the World and Me. Read Black Boy. Read everything you can about people whose experiences have been different from yours. Because we are all human beings, but we are very different. And our best hope for averting mass chaos and destruction is to at least attempt to understand and appreciate each others’ differences.

And guess what? There are times where it will feel like there are only questions and no answers. That’s how it feels for me right now when it comes to the way we deal with race in this country. But, as Rainer Maria Rilke said (in my favorite quote ever):

Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.